GENEVA/BRUSSELS (Reuters) – World Trade Organization members are considering eight candidates competing to replace Brazil’s Roberto Azevedo, who is stepping down as director-general on Aug. 31, a year early.
The new WTO chief will need to steer reform and negotiations in the face of rising protectionism, a deep recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and growing trade tensions, notably between the United States and China.
Candidates, including three women vying to be the WTO’s first female boss, were vetted by members last week. Campaigning continues until Sept. 7 with a final decision expected later this year, possibly after the U.S. election in November.
In the meantime, a temporary caretaker director-general will be chosen from among four current deputies from China, Nigeria, Germany, and the United States.
Below is a summary of the eight permanent 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. The veteran negotiator also previously worked at the International Monetary Fund and at universities in Hong Kong.
He said the next chief needed to combine depth of understanding of trade issues with the political clout needed to “get the WTO out of the hole” it is in. While there is no formal regional rotation requirement, some say that coming from Mexico might be a disadvantage since Azevedo was from the Americas.
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, who was officially endorsed by the African Union, is currently advising G20 president Saudi Arabia on trade matters and vows to “immediately revive the negotiating function of the organisation” if chosen. Some delegates say a lack of political experience could be a handicap but he denies this.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Nigeria), 66, board chair of the global vaccine alliance Gavi
Okonjo-Iweala, one of three women and three Africans in the race, 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. Branding herself a “do-er”, she points to her strong negotiating skills including a deal to cancel billions of dollars of Nigerian debt.
Described by some as one of top candidates, she told Reuters she has “strong support” from the continent. [L8N2DZ3ER] [L8N2E663I]
Tudor Ulianovschi (Moldova), 37, former minister of foreign affairs
Ulianovschi, the youngest candidate, was foreign minister in 2018-2019 and formerly a diplomat, with a 2016-2018 posting as Moldovan ambassador in Switzerland, covering also the WTO.
He said his immediate priority as chief would be to work towards a multilateral trade deal at the 2021 ministerial conference.
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.
Yoo vows to make the WTO more “relevant, resilient and responsive” and rebuild trust in the body.
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 top post unsuccessfully in 2013 although she says she has gained key skills since, including through chairing a Nairobi ministerial conference where deals were struck.
She has advocated broad participation in the WTO reform process and expressed some sympathy with U.S. criticism of the body. Some delegates see her as a frontrunner.
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 and says his private sector experience allows him to take a “fresh look” at the WTO.
Some delegates say political tensions with Qatar might prevent him earning broader support.
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.
Fox, who was given early odds of 33/1 by betting agency Ladbrokes before the vetting process began, says this is a job for a politician “and probably one who has been around for a while and carries the scars of the most difficult battles.”
(Reporting by Emma Farge in Geneva, Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels, Andrea Shalal in Washington, William James in London, Belen Carreno in Madrid, Katharine Houreld in Nairobi and Frank Jack Daniel in Mexico City; Editing by Mark Heinrich)