Trade

African trio set out battlelines for decisive phase of WTO leadership fight

ADDIS ABABA — It is increasingly likely that it will fall to a new boss from Africa to revive the World Trade Organization just as it has never seemed so powerless.

The selection of a successor to Brazils Roberto Azevêdo is now turning toward the elimination stage, and there are three Africans among the eight candidates. POLITICO has spoken to each of them, and asked them why they are better suited than their rivals to rescue an organization that has ground to a standstill, under pressure from Chinas state-led economic model and facing an onslaught from U.S. President Donald Trump.

The next WTO chief will have their work cut out. Washington has effectively stopped the WTO by blocking the appointment of judges to the worlds top tribunal for trade disputes, arguing that the organization is too soft on China. The WTOs supporters argue the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic will demand a strong WTO that can break down global trade barriers.

There is a growing sense among trade experts that it is Africas time. China would never support a U.S. candidate, and vice-versa. Latin America has just occupied the role, and the EU has no nominee.

Starting on Monday, ambassadors from all 164 members of the WTO will provide four names to Ambassador David Walker of New Zealand, the current chairman of the WTOs General Council. On September 21, the current list of eight candidates will be whittled down to five before another popularity contest will reduce the list further.

This is what Africas trio have to say:

The diplomat, and insider

Amina Mohamed is a 58-year old cabinet minister in Kenya, who has chaired the three most important bodies of the WTO: the Trade Policy Review Body, the Dispute Settlement Body and the General Council.

She has little time for suggestions that her prominent rival from Nigeria, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former No. 2 at the World Bank and political heavyweight, has an advantage by being an outsider who can shake up things with a fresh approach.

“Thats an argument that I have tried to dissociate myself from. Its a weak argument,” she said.

Mohamed has been Kenyas minister for international trade and credits herself with having “worked the system” repeatedly in Geneva.

“I understand how negotiations are done. Im a trade negotiator. I think that is really mainly what distinguishes me,” she said. “Im still a serving cabinet minister, which the other two are not.”

Mohamed has sought Washingtons backing and has expressed sympathy with the American view that the WTO has failed to foster an even playing field for its members.

She also stressed the importance of seeing off disputes before they flare up. “For instance … you have a committee on specific trade concerns,” she said. “We need to enhance that so we are able to resolve some of the disputes before they occur.”

Mohameds other priorities include reaching a deal on fisheries subsidies, progressing from “sharing information to fostering cooperation” in combating the COVID-19 pandemic and reviving age-old talks on agriculture subsidies, something developing countries are keen to see.

“Having been a minister of trade, I understand how ministers of trade think, what theyre sensitive to and how they manage the economic and trade interests of their countries,” she said. “I actually feel that my whole career prepared me for the job that I am seeking now.”

The technocrat broker

Hamid Mamdouh, an Egyptian old-timer at the WTO — he was part of his countrys delegation negotiating the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade back in 1985 — feels hes at risk of being overlooked.

“We cannot abbreviate their profiles into just being African, and then look at questions of gender or whether he or she was a minister,” he said, urging delegations to look at the job rather than the rhetoric coming from his competitors.

“The job of the director general is not really at all the job of an executive,” he explained. “It is the job of an honest broker.”

Mamdouh credits himself with having both the legal nous and trust of the global trade community for having helped draft large portions of the WTOs General Agreement on Trade in Services. He said he has helped pioneer some of the WTOs “legal concepts to liberalize trade” and would enter the director generals office with the confidence of the global trade community.

After stepping down from his position as director of the WTOs Trade in Services and Investment Division in 2017, Mamdouh said ambassadors, negotiators and trade officials from all over the world came to see him for advice.

To reform the WTO, he argued that members must first be convinced its in their own “enlightened self-interest” to change their behavior. He also said Geneva must bear some of the responsibility for its current state of irrelevance.

Problems balancing the WTOs three main functions — dispute settlement, negotiation and transparency over trade flows — has led to a situation where “we dont discuss anything anymore,” he explained.

“This is not going to be fixed by someone who says, Im a person with high political stature, Im going to knock heads together and use my political clout to resolve problems,” he said in an apparent dig at his two challengers from Africa. “I laugh when I hear that.”

In his first year in office, Mamdouh said he would like to drive a “visionary reform discussion,” finalize a deal on fisheries subsidies and make progress on joint initiatives such as a deal on e-commerce, investment facilitation rules and services.

He also said he would not hold back from kick-starting talks on the thorny issue of industrial subsidies, a matter both Europe and the U.S. have been keen to tackle due to the state support China grants its multinationals.

The political big hitter, and outsider

Okonjo-Iweala, head of a global vaccine alliance for developing countries, sees herself as the only candidate who can make the WTO relevant again by ensuring it plays a pivotal role in the global recovery from COVID-19.

As a board member of Twitter, a World Health Organization special envoy to provide equitable access to COVID supplies and a former finance minister in her home country Nigeria, Okonjo-Iweala stressed her managerial experience in making the WTO a force to be reckonRead More – Source