Notwithstanding the fact that the Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) has few real powers as executive head of a member-driven organization, it is one of the most coveted high-level international posts. With the incumbent, Pascal Lamy of France, expected to step down when his term of office expires at the end of August 2013, the contest to succeed him is underway.
Whoever gets the job has monumental challenges to address, in particular the stalemated Doha negotiations, which were intended to result in the introduction of lower trade barriers and revised trade rules but have been stymied by disagreements. While Lamy has a reputation for competence and hard work, he has not been able to conclude the round and leaves his successor with the difficult task of either completing or abandoning the negotiations and charting a new course for the organization.
Two candidates from Africa - Alan Kyerematen of Ghana and Amina Mohamed of Kenya - are among the nine people who have put themselves forward for consideration by WTO members. There are two from Asia (Mari Pangestu of Indonesia and Taeho Bark of South Korea), three from Latin America (Roberto Azevedo of Brazil, Anabel Gonzalez of Costa Rica and Herminio Blanco of Mexico), one from the Middle East (Ahmad Hindawi of Jordan) and one from New Zealand (Tim Groser).
Like almost all senior positions in international organizations , it is not only competence that determines who gets the job but, more importantly, politics and the influence of the nominating country or region. With the exception of Mike Moore of New Zealand who was Director-General of the WTO from 1999-2002 and Supachai Panitchpakdi of Thailand who served from 2002-2005, the post has been occupied by Europeans:
Against this background, and given the fact that the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are headed by developed country citizens, developing countries have forcefully stated that they expect the next WTO Director-General to come from either Africa or Latin America.
Many developing-country diplomats in Geneva were therefore surprised by the nomination of candidates by Indonesia and Korea, even though both have solid credentials. The candidate from South Korea may also face an additional hurdle as his compatriot is already heading the United Nations (Ban Ki-Moon) and a Korean-American (Jim Yong Kim) is heading the World Bank. Furthermore, a Korean was recently appointed to the WTO Appellate Body.
The two candidates from Africa have solid credentials. Amina Mohamed of Kenya, currently the Deputy Executive Head of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), is well-known in Geneva trade circles.
She chaired the WTO General Council in 2005 and oversaw the selection process which culminated in the appointment of Pascal Lamy. She also ran unsuccessfully to become a member of WTO's Appellate Body. However, she starts her candidacy with the disadvantage of having never held a t Cabinet-level position in Kenya Perhaps more damaging, the African Union Commission has already endorsed the other African candidate, Alan Kyerematen of Ghana.
Alan Kyerematen served as Minister of Trade and Industry for four years and participated actively in WTO and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Ministerial meetings. He is widely respected in trade and political circles around the world on account of his contribution to Africa's trade and development agenda He was also Ghana's Ambassador to the United States and has broad private sector experience. In addition to the endorsement of his candidature by the African Union, he has received broad support from many governments in the African, Caribbean, and Pacific Group of States (ACP). He seems to be the African candidate best positioned to mount a powerful challenge for the post.
There are non-African diplomats in Geneva who raise objections to the election of any African to head the WTO. Some argue that the post should go to another region since it is the turn of Africa to head the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Others hint that Africans lack the experience required to lead the WTO.
Not surprisingly, African diplomats reject this condescending view of Africa, the second largest continent with 54 sovereign countries. They also point to the fact that an African (Kofi Annan) ably lead the United Nations and argue that a qualified African can also effectively head the WTO and work towards attainment of its core objective - promoting trade liberalization for the benefit of all member countries.
From Latin America, the candidate from Brazil is very knowledgeable about the Doha negotiations, although he has not held a Ministerial or Cabinet-level position. Moreover, a Brazilian (Jose Graziano da Silva) was recently appointed as the Director-General of the Food nd Agricultural Organization (FAO). The candidate from Costa Rica headed the WTO's Agriculture and Commodities Division, although her management skills and experience are not as broad as the other candidates. And the Mexican candidate has broad experience in the field of trade policy but has the disadvantage of having another Mexican (Angel Gurria) heading the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
The election of the Director-General of WTO has become more politicized in recent years and is subject to horse-trading and the balancing of other extraneous considerations. Based on the combination of skills, knowledge, experience and exposure of the nine candidates in addition to some critical political considerations, it would appear that the contest will ultimately be between the candidates from Africa and Latin America.
James Williams is a London-based trade policy analyst and consultant.