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Eight contenders battle for leadership of beleaguered WTO

Geneva―Three last-minute contenders on Wednesday joined the race to become the next head of the beleaguered World Trade Organization, meaning eight candidates in total are vying for the daunting position.

Britain’s first post-Brexit international trade secretary Liam Fox, former Saudi economy minister Mohammed al-Tuwaijri and Kenya’s former WTO General Council chair Amina Mohamed all threw their hats in the ring in the final 24 hours before Wednesday’s deadline.

They join candidates from Egypt, Mexico, Moldova, Nigeria, and South Korea, a WTO official confirmed after the close of nominations.

The WTO General Council will meet from July 15-17 to hear their presentations and quiz them on their plans for the global trade body, which was beset with mammoth challenges even before the pandemic-driven global economic crisis struck.

“As the world seeks to recover from the shared challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic, the role of free and fair trade has never been more crucial,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in his letter to the WTO, nominating Fox.

He said the former defense minister, 58, could implement the necessary reforms “to ensure the global trading system truly delivers for all WTO members.”

The new chief must revive stalled trade talks, lay the ground for the 2021 ministerial conference―one of the WTO’s major events―and thaw relations with the United States.

The WTO finds itself caught in the middle of rising tensions between Washington and Beijing.

The United States, which has threatened to leave the WTO, has blocked the organization’s dispute settlement appeal system since December and wants China moved up from the developing economies category.

The Geneva-based organization is staging a swift contest to replace outgoing director-general Roberto Azevedo.

In a surprise move in mid-May, the Brazilian career diplomat announced he was stepping down one year early at the end of August.

Azevedo, 62, said he was ending his second four-year term early for personal reasons, forcing the WTO’s 164 member states to come up with a successor in just three months instead of the usual nine.

Rather than an election, the selection procedure relies on finding consensus, with candidates gradually being eliminated in turn.

Besides the three late entrants, the other candidates are South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee; Mexico’s former WTO deputy director-general Jesus Seade Kuri; former Nigerian foreign and finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala; Egyptian former diplomat Hamid Mamdouh; and former Moldovan foreign minister Tudor Ulianovschi.

Since the WTO was created in 1995, three of its directors-general were from Europe, while one each came from Oceania, Asia and South America.

Africa fancies its chances this time, even though there is no regional rotation principle at the global trade body.

However, African nations have so far failed to convene around a single candidate.

Mamdouh, 67, a veteran former senior WTO official who is also a Swiss national, is the only contender from the continent with any express backing from the African Union. 

Topics: World Trade Organization , Liam Fox , Mohammed al-Tuwaijri , Amina Mohamed
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