WTO: All Eyes On Okonjo-Iweala, Amina Mohamed, Myung-hee As US-China War Tilts Elements In Final Stage!

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*UK’s Liam Fox, Saudi’ s Al-Tuwaijri Also In Final Push…

By Hamilton Nwosa(Head, The New Diplomat’s Polling, Research and data desk)

As the race for the coveted seat of Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) enters its final stage, all eyes are gradually focusing on three women; namely former  Nigeria’s Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Kenya’s former Trade Minister, Amina Mohamed   and South Korea’s Trade Minister,  Yoo Myung-hee. The three women are solid professionals with excellent skill-set and impressive cognate experience. There are two other contenders namely  United Kingdom’s Liam Fox and Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed Al-Tuwaijri,  who have also advanced to this  critical stage in the selection process. But analyts say the attention seems leaning towards the above three women.

By  next week, October 6th,  the WTO General Council  under the chairmanship of  Ambassador Walker of New Zealand, assisted by the duo of  the WTO head  of Dispute Settlement, Ambassador Dacio Castillo and  the organization’s Chairman of  Trade Policy Review, Ambassador  Harald Aspelund  from Iceland, will engage in another round of consultations  with  WTO members “to assess their preferences and seek to determine which candidate is best placed to attract consensus support.”Okonjo Iweala

Read also: DG Race: ‘WTO Needs Fresh Pair Of Eyes’ Now, Says Okonjo-Iweala

According to the WTO protocols, this is the prelude to the final  selection process. The idea is to enable  WTO member nations to ascertain which candidate best meet the eligibility criteria  for  the post of WTO DG. This stage will see the five candidates being scaled down to two. The third round of consultation is expected to yield a final consensus candidate. Going by the procedural protocols, the Walker- led Council would likely select its choice candidate in early November. One interesting dynamics here is that the final selection process would likely dovetail into the United States presidential election  contest  between US  President Donald Trump and former US Vice President Joe Biden.

Recall that the initially crowded race was pruned down  from eight to five. The five contending candidates have two women from Africa namely Okonjo-Iweala(Nigeria) and Amina Mohamed(Kenya). But the candidacy of  South Korea’s Trade Minister, Yoo Myung-hee from the East Asian bloc seems to have altered the power dynamics with the Asian bloc likely to  back Myung-hee as the  stakes escalate. Analysts believe that if Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden wins the US election, the attitude of the US towards the WTO might change significantly. On the other hand,  should Trump win  re-election, the tension between US and China may not ease quickly argue some analysts.

On his part, it is not clear yet what cards UK’s candidate Liam Fox, a former UK Secretary of State for International Trade may pull as the game enters  its most crucial  stage. Will the EU back the UK? Will US and China back Myung-hee ? Will  the US support Okonjo-Iweala who is a dual citizen of Nigeria and the  a US? She is being sponsored by Nigeria? Going by Nigeria’s own protocols, dual citizenship is allowed in the country.  Alternatively, some analysts project that Kenya’s Amina Mohamed, a former Trade Minister and former Chair of WTO’s high-level decision-making bodies including its Ministerial Conference, General Council, Dispute Settlement Body as well as its Trade Policy Review Body,  is a key candidate to watch out for at this stage.

The WTO is looking for a new DG to succeed Brazilian Roberto Azevedo, who stepped down  last month.  The 25-year-old trade body has never had a leader who is female or from Africa. This makes the case for both Okonjo-Iweala and Amina Mohamed looks weighty.   As the five candidates face the pen-ultimate stage and final selection process in November, all eyes are now  on Amina Mohamed, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala,  Yoo Myung-hee,  Mohammad Al-Tuwaijri and  Liam Fox. How do they stand and what is their misison?

Read also: Okonjo-Iweala Promises Giant Strides For WTO

Here are the Candidates and their Mission Statements

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Nigeria): A former Nigeria’s Finance Minister & an  ex-MD of World Bank.

According to her, she intends to  “bring a fresh pair of eyes to the WTO’s challenges,” including “renewing and improving” the Organization. Her vision is anchored on the philosophy of  “a WTO with Purpose,” where trade helps foster economic growth and sustainable development, and “fresh challenges. She plans to balance the intersection between   trade and the environment,  e-commerce,  digital economy and  dispute settlement. Okonjo-Iweala also highlights her  rich global experience as  Chair of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and a knowledge gained as a former Managing director of   World Bank . She views issues of women and trade and MSMEs, as well as least developed countries’ (LDCs) participation in regional and global supplies dynamics as crucial to enhancing  inclusiveness  in  the WTO.  Analysts aver that President Buhari scored a  clever  diplomatic and deft political moves in putting forward Okonjo-Iweala to run for this coveted position. Her gripping credentials, excellent background and profound experience are great assets  that  stand  her in vantage position.

Amina Mohamed (Kenya):  Has  served as Kenya’s  Minister of Trade, Education &Foreign Affairs.

This lady who is highly regarded within and outside the WTO global system says he focus would be anchored on three Rs if she is selected as the next DG. These are reform, recovery, and renewal. She says these main themes of her mission for the WTO, is predicated on the  need “to recapture the visionary inspiration of the original architects of the system” and “breathe new life into the WTO” so that it can assist in COVID-19 recovery by helping rebuild economic resilience to boost growth and sustainable development globally. Mohamed has been minister in various ministries in Kenya and played key leadership roles in the WTO including being  a former Chair of WTO’s high-level decision-making bodies including its Ministerial Conference, General Council, Dispute Settlement Body as well as its Trade Policy Review Body. She  underlined the need to find areas of convergence to “update the trading system to take account of climate change, the digital revolution, poverty, and sustainable development”, stressing that WTO’s “special responsibility towards its most vulnerable Members” such as LDCs, the economic empowerment of  key bodies need to be prioritized. “I know this institution, I am passionate about it, I know the corridors, I have walked them, I have negotiated in them and I think it is one of the most amazing institutions for multilateral trading systems and negotiations,” she declared.

Yoo Myung-hee (South Korea):  South Korea’s Trade Minister & only Woman from Asia…  

Myung-hee’s goal as “to make the WTO more relevant,  resilient, and responsive.” Yoo’s top priorities are: MC12, including a successful and effective  outcome on fisheries subsidies and “tangible outcomes” on e-commerce; WTO’s reforms mechanism  including such subject matters as to “update the rule-books”,  “deliver agreements with real economic impact,” “ restore the dispute settlement system, and implement agreements and increase transparency; and sustainable development through inclusive trade initiatives and strengthened assistance to LDCs.”  Yoo  Myung-hee who is South Korea’s Trade Minister sees herself  as the  “bridge” candidate, aiming to overcome the divide between the United States and China, and also  as a candidate that would act as a bridge between rich countries and developing nations. Dr. Rohinton P. Medhora, Chair of the Centre for International Governance Innovation, a policy research Think-Tank in Canada, posits that Yoo’s South Korea’s nationality could be an advantage as South Korea “is usually held up as a successful development model and is admired for its shrewd way of doing capitalism.” He also avers that the United States might in a diplomatic sense, see South Korea as an advantage in her tense war with China over trade.

 Mohammad Al-Tuwaijri (Saudi Arabia): Saudi’s ex-minister of Economy and Planning

Al-Tuwaijri is a Saudi Arabian politician, a minister ranked as an  advisor at the Royal Saudi Court,  and has served as  the country’s  minister of Economy and Planning previously. His prior experience includes the role of group managing director of HSBC Holdings PLC MENA and  Turkey between 2010 to 2016 respectively. In his mission  statement , he proposes to refocus  the WTO system by evaluating why it  “is not delivering,” stressing  that there is “the need to recognize the consequences for the WTO of over-performance in litigation, while neglecting the negotiating and monitoring functions.” According to him, he would like to establish   “critical success factors” gathered from members’ goals and objectives, along with key performance indicators of the WTO’s accomplishment of its core functions. Al-Tuwaijri  also believes in  “plurilateral negotiations as long as they are open to all Members, their outcome is applied to all on a most-favored nation basis, and they do not create rules that prejudice the interests of non-participants.” He hopes to “aim higher  than concluding the fisheries subsidies negotiations by” in a way that aims to  “work overtime to support a more complete agenda for the future of the WTO by MC12.”

Liam Fox (UK) : Foremr UK’s Secretary of State for International Trade and Defence, respectively.

Liam Fox is a United Kingdom  politician who  has served variously as UK’s  Secretary of State for International Trade from 2016 to 2019 and Secretary of State for Defence from 2010 to 2011, respectively.  A member of the Conservative Party of the UK,  Fox has been the Member  representing North Somerset since 2010 at  the UK Parliament.  Fox sees  himself as “a passionate believer in a rules-based international trade system,”  while stressing  the need to” recommit  to the principles of most favored nation, national treatment, and transparency of commitments, warning that “free trade must never mean a free for all.”   According  to him,  the WTO currently faces key challenges. He identified  these challenges  as :  agreeing to  new rules on fisheries subsidies to meet SDG target 14.6 at MC12; making progress on Joint Initiatives on e-commerce, services, MSMEs, and investment; and issues related to agriculture such as subsidies, public stockholding for food security, and cotton.  He also insists that it crucial to “ensure that at least half of the WTO’s most senior leadership team are women.”

 Who Gets the Job? : The Likely Scenarios…

It would be recalled that the  WTO’s General Council  had  on September 18  asked  the five candidates to  advance to the next stage.  During the confidential consultations embedded in the selection process,  the Amb. Walker- led Council  had  posed to each delegate the following question:   “What are your preferences?”  In line with WTO protocols, members subsequently submitted their four preferences to the “troika” of ambassadors  Walker, Castilo and Aspelund. According to Walker, the key goal of this  process is “ to secure a consensus decision by members on the next Director-General.”

Thus as the race enters its final stage, the battle for the DG of WTO promises to be  most intriguing with both China and the US flexing muscles over who to back among the candidates. Recall that earlier in the year, a tough battle  between the US and China over the choice of DG of World Intellectual Property Organization, a U.N. agency in Geneva, was  equally quite  fierce. Ultimately, Singapore’s Daren Tang, who was nominated by Singapore with the active support of the U.S. and European nations  in a bid to fence-off China, won the tight race. The EU-US had backed  Singapore’s Tang because China’s Qu Dongyu had last year emerged as the DG of the UN’s FAO-Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome. So the race for this current position could also be predicated on similar  dynamics . Are these candidates  backed by the US, China and the EU? Which bloc is most crucial?  So what are the likely scenarios?

A very senior diplomat who wishes to remain anonymous  puts the situation most graphically  in a very lengthy conversation with  The New Diplomat  thus: “ My projection is that they might likely look in the direction of South Korean’s candidate if they are looking to balance the geo-regional diplomatic politics. Don’t forget, South Korea is in the middle-ground  of the power intrigues and they may pacify Japan that could raise objection or seek to block South Korea’s bid because of bi-lateral trade tensions.  Besides, the US may respond to China’s latest moves by aligning with South Korea in terms of seeing that it supports an ally in East Asia and  South Korea is seen as a natural ally, and a strong technological power. In the alternative, don’t rule out Kenya’s Amina Mohamed. She is an insider in the WTO global system and from what I hear,  she did extremely well and most excellently during the confidential interview and selection process. She is also a diplomat with wide-range  experience in multilateral organization’s protocols and procedures especially that of the WTO which she now seeks to lead. She has lead very key high-profile positions in the WTO including its Ministerial chair, General Council Chair, Trade  negotiations  and Dispute resolutions chair. They might opt to utilize the experience of an insider who perfectly understands the WTO system  to effect the reforms needed because you also might not want to bring in an outsider who doesn’t understand the system to pull down the  entire roof…

“I  also see Nigeria’s Okonjo-Iweala running very high  at this pen-ultimate stage. She has broad experience and she schooled in the West and her recent acquisition of US citizenship might be an  advantage. She could leverage upon that to her advantage. It could also be an identity issue. However,  given the fact that Nigeria accepts dual citizenship as a country so there is no identity issues as some would want to make of it. She has been Nigeria’s finance minister and she has also been an MD at the World Bank.  If other African countries support her candidature notwithstanding that Nigeria currently heads AfDB, AFRI-EXIM Bank and African Finance Corporation, three powerful African-based international organizations  and the rest of the World go along this path, then she might just be a candidate to beat. I see the race scaling down to these three women. This is because  my projection is that the EU may not support Britain because of BREXIT and other possible situational dynamics. Saudi Arabia might reach a consensus with Kenya and South Korea. Saudi Arabia’s candidate may drop for the Kenya woman from the cultural perspective or opt out for Myung-Yee  of South Korea on account of Asian regional politics.  I therefore  envisage  a three woman battle at this pen-final stage namely: Nigeria’s Okonjo-Iweala, Kenya’s Amina Mohamed and South Korea’s Myung-Yee…But don’t rule out anything until it is over. If Joe Biden wins the US elections or  Donald Trump wins re-election, the elements might be different…”

Recall that Trump has repeatedly  hinted via Twitter that the US should quit the WTO outright not withstanding that this  might elicit the anger of American business community which turns to the body to help address  issues of disputes.

 

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