GENEVA: Eight candidates from Mexico to Moldova will vie for the top job at the World Trade Organization, seeking to convince its 164 members they can steer the body through intensifying global trade tensions and rising protectionism.
A final 24-hour flurry added three names to the field to replace Brazilian Roberto Azevedo, who will quit at the end of August, a year earlier than expected.
With three of the six previous director-generals coming from Europe and the others from Thailand, Brazil and New Zealand, pressure has been building to choose a leader from Africa.
However, the continent has not united on a single figure, instead producing three candidates, from Egypt, Kenya and Nigeria. The others are from Britain, Mexico, Moldova, Saudi Arabia and South Korea.
The WTO has also never had a female chief. Three in the field are women.
All eight are expected to present themselves to the general council of ambassadors next week before an unspecified period of campaigning. A “troika” of ambassadors will canvas opinion in the hope the members can unite around one name.
“It’s like electing a pope. It’s a consensus process,” said Hosuk Lee-Makiyama, director of trade think tank ECIPE.
The process normally takes nine months, but the WTO now wants to do it in three.
The job is a tough one. The WTO is set to go into overdrive on a series of disputes, including fishing subsidies, ahead of a biennial conference in 2021. It is also facing pressure to update global trading rules set 25 years ago.
This means finding a consensus on new rules as U.S.-China tensions rise and other countries smart from more than 100 trade barriers erected since the coronavirus outbreak early this year.
“The WTO is not an organization that is really flourishing,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said in May. “It is not a job where you can really score.”
Below is a summary of the eight confirmed candidates by order of their candidacy:
Jesus Seade (Mexico), 73, senior trade official in Mexican government
Seade helped found the WTO in the early 1990s and led his government’s negotiating team to rework the North American Free Trade Agreement. He previously worked at the International Monetary Fund and at universities in Hong Kong.
Hamid Mamdouh (Egypt), 67, currently Geneva-based lawyer
Former trade negotiator for Egypt and ex-WTO official who helped draft an agreement on trade in services in the landmark Uruguay Round deal – an experience that he said gave him essential “bridge-building” skills.
Mamdouh is currently advising the G20 presidency, Saudi Arabia, on trade and investment matters.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Nigeria), 66, board chair of global vaccine alliance Gavi
Okonjo-Iweala is an economist and development specialist who has served as Nigeria’s foreign minister and finance minister and as a managing director of the World Bank. The former Harvard and MIT student’s work has involved efforts to make immunisation programmes financially sustainable.
A document showed she has regional backing from West Africa and she told Reuters she has “strong support” from the continent including an endorsement from former Liberian president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.
Tudor Ulianovschi (Moldova), 37, former minister of foreign affairs
Ulianovschi, fluent in four languages, was foreign minister in 2018-2019 and formerly a diplomat, with a 2016-2018 posting as Moldovan ambassador in Switzerland, covering also the WTO.
Yoo Myung-hee (South Korea), 53, trade minister
South Korea’s first female trade minister previously led the renegotiation of a trade deal with the United States and worked on Seoul’s trade pacts with Singapore and ASEAN.
Amina Mohamed (Kenya), 58, sport and culture minister
Mohamed is a former Kenyan ambassador to the WTO who in 2005 was the first woman to chair the WTO’s General Council.
She ran for the director general post unsuccessfully in 2013. Her CV says she speaks four languages, has a law degree and is an “excellent strategist and visionary” who has advocated broad participation in the WTO reform process.
Mohammad Al-Tuwaijri (Saudi Arabia), minister advising the royal court
Al-Tuwaijri, who studied aeronautics and business, was a Saudi Air Force pilot before working for a number of banks. He became minister of economy and state planning from 2017 until he was relieved of his post in March. He has also been on the board of directors at Saudi Aramco, Saudi Railways and Saudi Arabian Airlines.
Liam Fox (Britain), 58, member of parliament
A former defence minister as well as an ex-doctor and staunch Eurosceptic, Fox campaigned for Britain to leave the European Union and, after the Brexit vote, became secretary of state for international trade, but lost his position a year ago.