The nine candidates in the running to become the next WTO Director-General made their cases to members last week on why they are best suited to lead the global trade body, and their visions for the future of the organisation.

The race for the DG post comes in an eventful year for the WTO. Members are set to meet in Bali, Indonesia in December for their Ninth Ministerial Conference, just a few months after the new WTO head assumes his or her role, and are hoping to sign off on a series of items from the ongoing Doha Round of trade talks – a so-called “mini-package.”

However, members have been guarded in hanging their hopes too high on such a deal, given the Doha Round’s troubled history. How will a new WTO chief handle the remaining items in the Doha Round, should a small deal emerge from the ministerial? How to respond to the proliferation of preferential trade deals among members? And what will they suggest regarding the so-called “21st century issues,” such as climate change and exchange rates.

Alan Kyerematen of Ghana: Time for a “new trade consensus”

Kyerematen served as Ghana’s Minister of Trade, Industry and President’s Special Initiative from 2003 to 2007. He is now the Coordinator of the African Trade Policy Centre of the UN Economic Commission for Africa, having spent some time in the private sector.

–  There must be a new trade consensus

–  The development dimension of this should include special and differential treatment (S&DT) and preferences and be complemented by a “holistic approach” to fully integrate developing countries in the multilateral trading system

–  Achieving results in Bali is an “immediate priority”, but members must maintain their commitment to all aspects of the Round

–  A broader and more flexible view of possible negotiating approaches and outcomes should be looked at – “One Big Round” is not the only way to move forward

González of Costa Rica: Next Director-General must deliver on Doha, as “MC9 is not the end-game”

González currently serves as Costa Rica’s Foreign Trade Minister and previously ran the WTO secretariat’s Agriculture and Commodities division.

–  trade liberalisation is a means to development, not an end in itself

–  While developing countries are increasingly playing a greater role in trade – the distribution of growth among these is still concentrated in just a few members.

–  Results in Bali are key to promote confidence in WTO, but MC9 is not the end-game

–  Members must engage in a candid discussion about an immediate and medium-term agenda for the organisation that includes the so-called 21st century issues

–  We can complete the tasks of today while keeping an eye on tomorrow’s challenges.

Pangestu in Indonesia: WTO, Doha goals “as relevant as ever”

Pangestu is a trade economist who currently serves as Indonesia’s Minister of Tourism and Creative Economy, a post she took on in 2011 after 7 years as her country’s trade minister.

–  The WTO is more than Doha

–  The goals encompassed in Doha remain as relevant today as ever

–  WTO must be creative in finding benefit to the entire membership. An early harvest in Bali, while important should not be the only harvest – we should never lose sight of the big harvest and its potential gains

–  Different levels of development and the evolution of the global value chain, require a more nuanced way of structuring multilateral negotiations which accounts for the continuum of levels of development of countries

–  If I could make the life of one person better off I would have done some of my job

Groser of New Zealand: “Never underestimate the power of ideas”

Tim Groser is New Zealand’s Minister of Trade, Minister for Climate Change Issues, and Associate Minister for Foreign Affairs.

–  The rules being implemented today have been overtaken by events

–  Even a modest result at Bali could be important for the WTO’s negotiating function.

–  The development dimension remains fundamental – one size does not fit all

–  Every member of the WTO is, or has been, a developing country. It would be inconceivable that we could have made so much progress on development and poverty eradication in the last 30 years without access to the relatively open global market for manufactured goods that the WTO system underwrites

Mohamed of Kenya: Global trade agenda should be modernised

Former Kenyan WTO ambassador Amina Mohamed is a trade lawyer who has held the posts of General Council Chair, Dispute Settlement Body Chair, and Trade Policy Review Body Chair, and who is currently UN Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme in Nairobi.

–  It is time to upgrade the global trade agenda – so that it can respond more effectively to challenges of the 21st century (food security, climate change etc)

–  New members such as China and Russia should be brought much on board in driving the negotiations

–  Important to achieve results in Bali, and develop an agenda for the post-Bali period

–  Advocated for the completion of the services plurilateral negotiations, which are expected to start in March, and the planned expansion of the Information Technology Agreement – such deals could be a viable way forward during the short-term

–  Having an African at the head of the WTO body would send a sign of recognition that Africa is doing well, and that Africa has the merits to lead a global organisation

Hindawi of Jordan: Institutional evolution needed

Hindawi is an engineer and businessman who previously served as Jordanian Trade and Industry Minister.

–  Strengthening the Trade Policy Review mechanism and the global trade body’s cooperation with other international organisations. WTO accessions should be streamlined

–  Build capacity for developing countries – such as ensuring continued and sustained funding for the Aid for Trade initiative

–  Suggestions regarding the WTO’s governance and structure as an institution

–  Act as an honest and fair broker among contending parties; acting as a bridge between the East and the West; the South and the North

–  A fresh outside look of someone who was not part of or directly involved in the system for the past few years

Blanco of Mexico: WTO must be rescued from perceived “cliff of irrelevancy”

Blanco is Mexico’s former minister of trade and industry who was also his country’s chief negotiator of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

–  What to do with a 12 year old agenda dealing with 15 year old issues

–  Rescue the WTO from the perception of being on the cliff of irrelevancy

–  Final preparations for Bali, and then focusing on improving both the WTO’s negotiating pillar and the functioning of its regular bodies

–  Reaching an agreement in Bali on certain issues will not mean that the remaining issues of Doha will disappear

–  The importance of integrating the growing network of regional trade agreements (RTAs) into the WTO system

Bark of Korea:  Need for “rebuilding trust”

Bark is a trade economist who has been his country’s trade minister since December 2011, during which time he helped to bring the US-Korea trade pact into force and to launch negotiations on a bilateral deal with China, a trilateral pact with China and Japan, and a plurilateral deal including ASEAN and five other countries.

–  Rebuilding trust recreating a vibrant culture of Geneva-centred negotiations

–  Disagreements should not obscure our common goals: promoting trade, reducing poverty and enhancing development

–  Seizing the momentum from Bali is important for revitalising the remaining Doha Round agenda

–  WTO has a key role in contributing to development through greater trade opportunities, capacity-building, and predictable rules. But, developing countries’ supply side constraints must also be addressed, specifically via aid for trade

–  Challenges of how to respond to new issues such as climate change, and how to create more buy-in on the benefits of trade liberalisation

–  Growing importance of active communication with the private sector and civil society

–  Focus on distributing “practical information” on trade’s benefits

Azevêdo of Brazil: Time to stop avoiding the most difficult Doha issues

Azevêdo is a career diplomat well-known in Geneva circles who has been Brazil’s WTO ambassador since 2008.

–  Trade cannot be a goal in itself, but must happen in a way that improves living conditions of families in the real world

–  Making the dispute settlement system work better for the poorest members

–  The negotiations system must be updated or it will soon become incapable of dealing with the demands of today’s changed world

–  Securing a successful outcome for Bali is the first step toward building confidence among negotiators and reinvigorating the Doha talks, but any Bali outcomes will not be the end of the road

–  Members should try to reinvigorate the talks by trying a different approach: not avoiding the most difficult and intractable issues, but instead tackling them head-on.

Next steps

With the General Council presentations now over, candidates will have the next two months to make themselves known to the membership and to engage in additional discussions. Beginning in April, members will then go through a series of consultations under the guidance of incoming General Council chair Shahid Bashir of Pakistan, who will take on the post after current chair Elin Østebø Johansen of Norway steps down.

Bashir will be assisted in this process by the incoming chairs of the Dispute Settlement Body and Trade Policy Review Body, who are expected to be announced by March and will be chosen from the pool of self-designated developed country members.

After each round of consultations, candidates with the least levels of support are expected to withdraw from the race, until consensus can be built around one candidate. In the absence of an agreement, the selection will go to a vote – which, while permitted under WTO selection procedures, is virtually unheard of. A new Director-General must be chosen by 31 May, at latest, in order to take office on 1 September.

Read the full ICTSD briefing by Sofía Alicia Baliño here

Summary

The nine candidates in the running to become the next WTO Director-General made their cases to members last week as to why they are best suited to lead the global trade body, and their visions for the future of the organisation. The race for the DG post comes in an eventful year for the WTO. Members are set to meet in Bali, Indonesia in December for their Ninth Ministerial Conference, just a few months after the new WTO head assumes his or her role. How will a new WTO chief handle the remaining items in the Doha Round, should a small deal emerge from the ministerial? How to respond to the proliferation of preferential trade deals among members? And what will they suggest regarding the so-called “21st century issues,” such as climate change and exchange rates.

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