Race to run the World Trade Organisation heats up

Linda J. Dodson

Others say it’s Africa’s turn. Nigeria’s Yonov Frederick Agah, one of Azevedo’s deputies, and Eloi Laourou, Benin’s ambassador to the United Nations are on the list, along with Hamid Mamdouh, a lawyer and former WTO director of trade in services and investment who was previously a trade negotiator for Egypt. 

Mamdouh argues: “The African aspiration is predicated on the fact that post was never held by an African. The African Union decided last July that the next director-general of the WTO should be from Africa.”

Spain’s foreign minister Arancha González and Dutch trade minister Sigrid Kaag are also said to be considering a run. 

However, to those who claim that it’s time for a female chief, Wendy Cutler of the Asia Society Policy Institute and former acting deputy US trade representative, says the selection process is hard enough without gender criteria thrown in.

“Certain people view this as more of a member-driven organisation so are looking for someone who’s a consensus builder. Others feel the WTO needs an activist who can push people off their national positions,” she says.

“Once you start saying it has to be a woman or from a developing country or from a certain region, you’re just limiting the pool. 

“I worry it’ll take a lot more time than people anticipate and in the meantime you’ll have an acting director-general, which is going to mean the WTO won’t be able to move boldly to address the challenges it’s facing on dispute settlement, negotiation and monitoring. The last thing the WTO needed was to have a director-general selection process at a point where it’s fragile and overburdened.”

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