WTO: Okonjo-Iweala Jumps 1st Hurdle as 3 Candidates Drop Out

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Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

Obinna Chima

The dream of Nigeria’s Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala becoming the next Director General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) got a boost yesterday when the body’s General Council listed her among the five candidates that made it to the second stage of its screening.

The other candidates that made it with Okonjo-Iweala, a former finance minister in Nigeria and former managing director of the World Bank, are Saudi Arabia’s former minister of economy and planning, Mohammad Maziad Al-Tuwaijri; UK’s former secretary of state for international trade, Liam Fox; South Korea’s trade minister, Yoo Myung-hee; and Kenya’s former international trade minister, Amina Chawahir Mohamed Jibril.

“Their expertise and high professional and personal qualities are highly valued and respected by all members,” WTO’s General Council Chairman, David Walker, said in a statement yesterday.

The Geneva-based WTO said Mexico’s Jesus Seade, Egypt’s Hamid Mamdouh, and Moldova’s Tudor Ulianovschi did not secure enough support in a first of three rounds of voting and have been dropped from the race.
It plans to reduce the contestants to two final candidates in the coming weeks.

Walker of New Zealand and his two co-facilitators, Dacio Castillo of Honduras and Harald Aspelund of Iceland, were impressed with the five candidates shortlisted.
“Throughout the six days of consultations it was clear to us that the entire membership is both committed to and fully engaged in this process,” Walker, who expressed his gratitude to all the candidates, including those who will not advance further, said.

“Members consider all the candidates highly qualified and respected individuals. I would also like to pay tribute to the dignified manner in which they, their delegations, and their governments have conducted themselves in this process.

“Their willingness to engage, especially at these challenging times, has been greatly appreciated, and the Organisation is in their debt. Their expertise and high professional and personal qualities are highly valued and respected by all members. I am sure I speak on behalf of all of you in wishing them well in their future endeavours,” he added.

During the confidential consultations, Walker Castillo and Aspelund, were said to have posed to each delegation a single question: “What are your preferences?” Members then submitted four preferences to the “troika” of ambassadors.

Walker said the second phase of consultations would begin on September 24th and run until October 6th, after which the WTO would announce two final candidates.
He said the goal is to name a new WTO DG by November 7.

Then, “members would be asked in the confidential consultations to express two preferences to the facilitators with an eye to bringing the number of candidates from five to two. Following this process, Walker will call another Heads of Delegations meeting at which the results will be announced to the WTO membership. The timetable for the third and final round of consultations will be announced at that time.

“The ultimate objective of this measured and clearly defined process is to secure a consensus decision by members on the next Director-General. The General Council agreed on July 31 that there would be three stages of consultations held over a two-month period commencing September 7,” Walker said.

He pointed out that the consultation process taken by facilitators had been set by guidelines established by the General Council in a 2002 decision.

According to these guidelines, the key consideration in determining which candidate is best poised to achieve consensus is the “breadth of support” each candidate receives from the members.

It revealed that during the DG selection processes of 2005 and 2013, breadth of support was defined as, “the distribution of preferences across geographic regions and among the categories of members generally recognised in WTO provisions: that is (Least developed countries), developing countries and developed countries”.

The Chair said in conjunction with his colleagues, they were guided by the practices established in the General Council proceedings, explaining further that the decisions made clear that “breadth of support means the larger membership”.

The remaining five contenders are either current or former ministers, something that trade officials had previously said was an important characteristic for a future Director-General.
The vacancy for the WTO’s top job arose when Brazilian director-general, Roberto Azevedo, decided to step down at the end of August, a year before his term was due to end.

The campaign to lead the WTO during the most turbulent period of its 25-year existence is playing out against the backdrop of the pandemic, a worldwide recession, the US-China battle for trade supremacy, and the American presidential election.

The vacancy offers an opportunity for the US, the European Union, and other nations to reshape the organisation, whose mission of economic integration was under threat from protectionist policies around the globe.
Without reform, the WTO risks being sidelined during the biggest economic crisis in a century.