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Low-down on top candidates in race for next WTO chief job

By Reuters | July 14th 2020
Amb. Amina Mohamed makes her speech on the candidature for the position of the Director General of the World Trade Organization from Harambee House, Nairobi.

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) closed nominations for its next director-general to replace Brazil’s Roberto Azevedo, who is stepping down on August 31, a year early.

The new WTO chief will need to steer reform and negotiations in the face of rising protectionism, a deep recession caused by the Covid-19 and growing trade tensions, notably between the US and China. Below is a summary of the eight confirmed candidates:

Amina Mohamed (Kenya), 58, sport and culture minister

Mohamed is a former Kenyan ambassador to the WTO who in 2005 was the first woman to chair the WTO’s, General Council. She ran for the director-general post unsuccessfully in 2013. Her CV says she speaks four languages, has a law degree and is an “excellent strategist and visionary” who has advocated broad participation in the WTO reform process.

Jesus Seade (Mexico), 73, senior trade official in the Mexican government

Seade helped found the WTO in the early 1990s and led his government’s negotiating team to rework the North American Free Trade Agreement. He previously worked at the International Monetary Fund and at universities in Hong Kong.

Hamid Mamdouh (Egypt), 67, Geneva-based lawyer

Former trade negotiator for Egypt and ex-WTO official who helped draft an agreement on trade in services in the landmark Uruguay Round deal - an experience that he said gave him essential “bridge-building” skills. Mamdouh is currently advising the G20 presidency, Saudi Arabia, on trade and investment matters.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Nigeria), 66, board chair of global vaccine alliance Gavi

Okonjo-Iweala is an economist and development specialist who has served as Nigeria’s foreign minister and finance minister and as a managing director of the World Bank.

The former Harvard and MIT student’s work has involved efforts to make immunisation programmes financially sustainable. A document showed she has regional backing from West Africa and she told Reuters she has “strong support” from the continent, including an endorsement from former Liberian president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

Tudor Ulianovschi (Moldova), 37, ex-foreign minister

Ulianovschi, fluent in four languages, was foreign minister in 2018-2019 and formerly a diplomat, with a 2016-2018 posting as Moldovan ambassador in Switzerland, covering also the WTO.

Yoo Myung-hee (South Korea), 53, trade minister

South Korea’s first female trade minister previously led the renegotiation of a trade deal with the United States and worked on Seoul’s trade pacts with Singapore and ASEAN.

Mohammad Al-Tuwaijri (Saudi Arabia)

Al-Tuwaijri, who studied aeronautics and business, was a Saudi Air Force pilot before working for a number of banks. He became minister of economy and state planning from 2017 until he was relieved of his post in March. He has also been on the board of directors at Saudi Aramco, Saudi Railways and Saudi Arabian Airlines.

Liam Fox (Britain), 58, MP

A former defence minister as well as an ex-doctor and staunch Eurosceptic, Fox campaigned for Britain to leave the European Union and, after the Brexit vote, became secretary of state for international trade, but lost his position a year ago.  

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