WTO: Nominees Begin to Trickle in for Race to Replace Lamy

19 December 2012

The race to replace WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy when he steps down next August is now well underway, with three candidates having been formally presented to the global trade body in the past week. Additional nominations are expected by the end of the one-month nominating period, which closes on 31 December.

As Bridges went to press on Wednesday evening, the candidacies of former Ghanaian Trade and Industry Minister Alan John Kwadwo Kyerematen and current Costa Rican Foreign Trade Minister Anabel González had both been officially submitted to the WTO.

Former Indonesian Trade Minister Dr. Mari Elki Pangestu has also been submitted as a nominee, according to Reuters, though an official WTO announcement had not been made at the time of this writing. Indonesia is slated to host the organisation's upcoming Ninth Ministerial Conference in December 2013. Dr. Pangestu's nomination makes her the second woman to enter the 2013 Director-General contest, along with Minister González; to date, all past WTO chiefs have been male.

Indeed, in addition to the French and former EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy, the WTO has been led since its inception by five Director-Generals: the current Secretary General of UNCTAD, Dr. Supachai Panitchpakdi from Thailand; Mr. Mike Moore, former Prime Minister of New Zealand; Italian former Trade Minister Renato Ruggiero; and Irishman and former EU Commissioner, Peter Sutherland, who handled the conclusion of the Uruguay Round and the transition of the institution from the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) into the WTO in 1994-95.  The GATT, in its 47 years of existence, had three Director-Generals: the inaugural British diplomat Sir Wyndham Whyte who served for 20 years, followed by Swiss diplomats Olivier Long and Arthur Dunkel.

In addition to the three officially announced candidates, recent media reports have also indicated that the nomination of Ahmad Thougan Al Hindawi, Jordan's former Trade and Industry Minister, is likely to be formally presented in the coming days. Other expected candidates include Tim Groser, New Zealand's current Minister of Trade, Minister for Climate Change Issues and Associate Minister of Foreign Affairs, who has already expressed interest in the post. Rumours around delegations in Geneva and related high-level conferences have also raised the possibility of other African candidates, including former Kenyan Ambassador Amina Mohamed and current Trade Minister of South Africa Rob Davies.

The names of heavyweights Lord Mandelson - former European Commissioner for Trade - and of global governance activist and former President of Mexico, Dr. Ernesto Zedillo, have also been tossed around in the past few months as options that, if realised, would change the nature of the game.

Who will feature in the final line-up for the race is being closely watched in the policy community, given that current Director-General Pascal Lamy- who has held the position for two four-year terms - ran unopposed in 2009 when re-elected. (See Bridges Weekly, 6 May 2009)

Unlike the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, which traditionally have appointed a US national and a European for their respective top posts under an existing gentleman's agreement between members, the WTO process does not involve such arrangements - leaving many observers to question whether the next trade chief could be from a developing country. A claim has already been made at recent WTO debates on the matter.

"In order to ensure that the best possible candidate is selected to head the WTO at any given time, candidatures representing the diversity of members across all regions shall be invited in the nominations process," WTO selection procedures state. "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."

Members have a one-month period - in this case, from 1 December to 31 December - to submit their nominations for the post. Nominated candidates will then have the first three months of 2013 to make themselves known to members - including a formal presentation to the membership at a special General Council session on 29 January - and to engage in talks on "pertinent issues facing the Organization," according to WTO procedures.

The two months following that period will be devoted toward the selection and appointment of the new trade chief, with the goal of choosing him or her by consensus. The successor to Pascal Lamy is expected to be announced by May 2013.

The process is being coordinated by the chair of the General Council - currently Ambassador Elin Johansen of Norway - with the assistance of the chairs of the Dispute Settlement Body, presently Ambassador Shahid Bashir of Pakistan (whom, following tradition, is likely to chair in 2013 the General Council), and of the Chairman of the WTO's Trade Policy Review Body, in 2012 Colombia's Ambassador Eduardo Muñoz Gómez.

Bridges will provide a full rundown of the final list of candidates when it returns to press in January.

ICTSD reporting; "La costarricense Anabel González, candidata a dirigir la OMC," EL PAÍS, 18 December 2012; "Dubai consultant in running for WTO director general post," THE NATIONAL, 19 December 2012; "Indonesian technocrat Pangestu enters race to lead WTO," REUTERS, 19 December 2012; "David Cameron to back Mandelson as trade supremo," THE GUARDIAN, 20 May 2011.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to reflect the third nominee to enter the Director-General's Race.

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