WTO Director-General Selection Process — What Do Results From First Round of Consultations Suggest are Key Criteria for WTO Members in Next Director-General?



Terence P. Stewart | Current Thoughts on Trade

Last week, five of eight candidates advanced to the second round of consultations when the WTO’s Chairman of the General Council reviewed with the membership the results of the first round of consultations. The second round of consultations starts this week. WTO Members’ preferences in the second round will result in the field being reduced from five to two candidates before the third round selects the candidate viewed as most likely to achieve consensus among the WTO Members. The selection process should end by November 7, 2020

Can anything be gleaned from the results of the first round results?

  1. The three candidates who did not advance

The three candidates eliminated were Dr. Jesus Seade Kuri of Mexico, Mr. Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh of Egypt and Amb. Tudor Ulianovschi of Moldova.

Dr. Seade has had personal involvement with the GATT during the Uruguay Round and was not only Mexico’s Ambassador to the GATT but then a Deputy Director-General of the GATT at the end of the Uruguay Round and one of the original Deputy Directors-General when the WTO was set up in 1995.

Mr. Mamdouh similarly has had a long and distinguished history with the GATT and WTO that stretches back to the Uruguay Round and continued in various capacities within the Secretariat ending with a sixteen year stint as Director of the Trade in Services and Investment Division.

Thus, if one was putting primacy on technical expertise or a deep understanding of the origins of the WTO (arguably relevant to current crisis issues like the impasse over the Appellate Body), then one would have expected both of these individuals to get past the round one consultations. As they didn’t, it follows that depth of technical capability was not a driving consideration for Members in the first round of consultations.

Although Dr. Seade has held various government positions including Under Secretary for North America and chief negotiator for the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement), he has never served as a Minister (Secretary) in the Mexican government. Moreover, Mexico, while part of North America, is typically referred to as part of Latin America. Since the last Director-General was from Brazil (also included in “Latin America”), this fact could have been viewed as a negative for Dr. Seade.

For the enormous history that Mr. Mamdouh has had with the WTO, he never served as either an Ambassador or took the position of Minister for the Egyptian government. Thus, to the extent Members were putting primacy on candidates who had served in a high political position for their host government, Mr. Mamdouh would have been viewed as not meeting that criteria.

Amb. Ulianovschi served both as Moldova’s Ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein (including being Ambassador/Permanent Representative to the WTO) and later served as a Minister of Foreign Affairs. Thus, he has both familiarity with WTO issues and had a prior senior political position. Since Moldova is part of Europe and most Directors-General of the GATT and WTO have been from Europe, this could have been viewed as a negative for Amb. Ulianovschi (though the same was also true for Dr. Liam Fox of the United Kingdom who has advanced to the second round of consultations).

2. The five candidates who have advanced to round two

Of the five candidates who have advanced, all have served as a Minister in their home government with four — Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria, H.E. Amina C. Mohamed of Kenya, H.E. Mohammad Moziad Al-Tuwaijri of Saudi Arabia and the Rt Hon Dr. Liam Fox MP of the United Kingdom having served two terms or in two different Minister positions. The fifth, H.E. Yoo Myung-hee of the Republic of Korea is the current Minister for Trade in Korea.

The differentiation between those who advanced and those who didn’t thus seems to hinge in significant part of the perception of political weight a candidate would bring based in part on the senior government role each has played. While Amb. Ulianovschi of Moldova did not advance and yet was a Minister, his being from a European country may have been the distinguishing factor. He was also the youngest candidate by more than a decade which may have been another factor for some.

Moving into the second round of consultations, what considerations may influence who makes the next cut?

The Chairman of the General Council indicated that WTO Members viewed all eight candidates as highly qualified and respected. This means for many Members the important factors may be less about the qualifications but more about geographical diversity of the membership. The Procedures adopted at the end of 2002 for the selection of Directors-General has a paragraph dealing with the representativeness of candidates (WT/L/509 at para. 13):

“Where Members are faced in the final selection with equally meritorious
candidates, they shall take into consideration as one of the factors the desirability of reflecting the diversity of the WTO’s membership in successive appointments to the post of Director-General.”

As there has not been a Director-General from Africa or from the Middle East and only one from Asia, geographical diversity could have aided four of the five candidates who advanced to the second round of consultations.

In addition, no GATT or WTO Director-General has been a woman to date. One of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is gender equality (SDG 5). Three of the candidates who have advanced are female. A fourth, Dr. Liam Fox, committed to ensuring that half of the senior WTO Secretariat would be women if he were selected as the next Director-General.

While all eight candidates indicated their preference for the selection to be of the best qualified candidate, it is certainly likely that other criteria will weigh in the second and third round consultation process which leads to the selection of a single candidate.

The three women candidates

Among the three women candidates, H.E. Mohamed has a proven track record on trade within the WTO and as Chair of the 2015 Nairobi Ministerial. H.E. Yoo’s career has been entirely in trade, and she has dealt with each of the U.S., China and the EU in her trade capacity for Korea. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has never been Minister of Trade though her role (twice) as Minister of Finance for Nigeria included some trade-related areas (customs, trade facilitation) and she had a distinguished career at the World Bank and is now active in various organization relevant to the recovery from COVID-19 such as GAVI (focused on getting vaccines to countries in need).

Obviously two of the three women candidates have serious trade/WTO backgrounds. The third is often viewed as having the largest political profile. Depending on how large the preference is for a strong leader with significant political experience or a strong leader with significant understanding of the trade problems before the WTO, this could lead to Dr. Okonjo-Iweala and H.E. Mohamed as being the top two women candidates or H.E. Mohamed and H.E. Yoo filling that role.

Possible wild cards that could hurt one or two of the women candidates are (1) the ongoing Japan-South Korea conflict that H.E. Yoo has been involved in; (2) China’s view towards H.E. Yoo if concerned about whether China will maintain a Deputy-Director General slot going forward if an Asian candidate is selected as the next Director-General; (3) the late disclosure that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is a dual Nigerian-U.S. citizen and whether that is problematic for China or other Members.

The two remaining male candidates

It is unlikely that Dr. Fox makes it to the third round based simply on the Paragraph 13 indication of importance of geographical diversity and the long history of European Directors-General. He would bring a unique viewpoint to the Director-General position being the only candidate who has repeatedly stood for election in his country. His commitment to ensure half of the senior WTO Secretariat are women may also be a plus for him if only one of the women candidates advances.

Similarly, unless the membership decides that what they want as a Director-General is someone who will move the organization to a more business-like functioning approach, it is unlikely that H.E. Al-Tuwaijri makes it past round two. He has the advantage of being from an area (Middle East) that has not had a Director-General. Moreover, he has worked closely with G20 countries which could be a plus if only one of the women candidates advances to round three.

Likely outcome of Round Two Consultations

The second round of consultations starts on September 24 and concludes on October 6. At the meeting of the Heads of Delegation that follows the close of the consultations (probably October 8), it is likely that H.E. Amina C. Mohamed and Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala advance to the third round of consultations.

Who will likely emerge as the sole remaining candidate after Round Three?

If H.E. Mohamed and Dr. Okonjo-Iweala advance beyond round two, the selection of a candidate most likely to achieve consensus among the WTO Members in round three will depend on whether Members prefer a candidate who has a record of achieving results in the WTO or prefer a candidate with a large record of in-country reform and of achievement within the World Bank and ability to focus Members on post COVID-19 recovery needs.

Either would be an interesting choice and would bring great energy to what will be a very challenging job at a time of multiple crises for the WTO and concerns about its continued relevance. Based on what seems to have mattered in Round One of the consultations, I would predict that Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala will be the next Director-General with the one caveat of whether her dual citizenship with the U.S. in addition to her home country of Nigeria becomes problematic in fact. If the caveat applies, then look for H.E. Amina C. Mohamed to be the next Director-General.

Terence Stewart, former Managing Partner, Law Offices of Stewart and Stewart, and author of the blog, Current Thoughts on Trade.

To read the original blog post, click here