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Address concerns over selection of WTO chief

By Walter Chesang | November 10th 2020
Nigeria’s Ngozi Okojo-Iweala advanced to the final round of consultations.

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) Director-General selection process has raised questions. The European Renewable Energies Federation is an organisation representing all branches of power generation and technology organisations which deal with renewable energies in the European Union has questioned the manner in which the European Union approached the WTO selection process.

The process is managed by a selection panel of three members heading the General Council, Dispute Settlement Body and Trade Policy Review Body of the WTO. The third and final round of the process commenced on October 19, 2020 and was expected to last until October 27, 2020.

During this time, the selection panel consisting of WTO General Council Chair David Walker (New Zealand), Chair of the Dispute Settlement Body Dacio Castillo (Honduras) and Chair of the Trade Policy Review Body Harald Aspelund (Iceland) scheduled ‘confidential consultations’ with the membership with a view to identifying a single preferential candidate who would attract consensus from the membership. Nigeria’s Ngozi Okojo-Iweala and South Korea’s Yoo-Myung Hee advanced to the final round of consultations.

In their letter of November 4, 2020 addressed to the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, EREF protested the European Union decision to force a single vote upon its membership.

Their protest letter stated in part: “We were shocked to realise that the selection process turned out to be based on political considerations only instead of the evaluation of performance experience and highest-level support by members, and above all, integrity. We learnt that there is a discussion coming up about how the selection process was conducted so far. We hope it will lead to the reopening of the process to allow for the credible candidates that were left out to be included in the race.”

Additionally, founding President of the European Committee on Quality Assurance and Medical Devices in Reconstructive Surgery Prof Klein also wrote to EU President on November 3, 2020 expressing deep concern with respect to the WTO selection process. She advised that the election should have come up with the best possible leader for the WTO - a leader who would generate confidence in the system and who is known for outstanding skills to build consensus among members, whose interests vary considerably.

She referred to Amina Mohamed as a respected African leader with impeccable reputation and who is admired globally for her integrity and commitment to the rule of law and good governance. She added that Amina has been at the forefront of delivering for the Multilateral Trading System and that for the time being, there is no other single individual who has a better track record to lead the organisation.

The German-based medical professor referred to the landmark successes of the WTO achieved under Amina’s leadership - either as chair of the key bodies of the organisation in Geneva or as the chairperson of the tenth Ministerial Conference, which was the most successful Ministerial Conference and Global Trade Round of the WTO.

She highlighted the TRIPS Agreement which Amina negotiated, balancing the protection of intellectual property rights, investment in research and development and support for countries with little or no manufacturing capacity.

Her letter to the EU Commission President expressed unequivocally that in her view, Amina was the ideal candidate to lead the WTO due to her outstanding performance on so many occasions, her skills to build consensus under the most difficult conditions, her support for humanitarian work in Africa and her efforts at advancing an effective European-African partnership.

She also questioned the manner in which the selection process was conducted with utter disregard of good governance and due diligence and cautioned that the EU’s approach to the process threatened the political body’s reputation and endangered the merits of many deserving leaders who have worked tirelessly to advance the EU even further.

In light of these emerging and other protests with respect to the manner in which the selection process was conducted and the role of the EU in aiding a flawed process, the EU should take responsibility for enabling a flawed process to deny the world the person best suited to head the WTO during these troubled times. The protest letters presented to the EU President recognises the competences of the Kenyan candidate based on her proven track record of consensus building within the WTO.

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Amina's track record during her political and diplomatic career, which spans several decades, confirms her political and technical grasp of the issues facing the multilateral trading system, clear vision for the WTO and consensus attitude to address the issues that have stalled the mandate of the WTO for decades. The impactful Nairobi Ministerial Conference Outcome, which to date remains the most successful WTO Ministerial Conference is termed by many trade experts as ray of hope in restoring the purpose of the WTO.

If the world is serious about giving merit and experience a chance, then we must re-think the selection process entirely. A process shrouded in lack of transparency, mystery, underhandedness and complete exclusion of the developed and developing world in determining the outcome cannot be accepted in the post-Covid world that demands the greatest human commitment to stay afloat and to steer organisations and countries towards recovery.

If the global concessions that stalled a repeat of the two world wars were subjected to a purely political process devoid of any conscience, the existence of global institutions such as the United Nations would still be a dream and global peace a mirage.

Taking into account the current impasse between the United States and other ‘veto’ member states, the future of the WTO hangs in the balance and along with it, the livelihoods of billions of people around the world.

-Mr Chesang is a historian

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