Winter break is over, as is the first week of spring semester classes, so I am jumping back in here to keep an eye on the latest news regarding the Doha negotiations.
The most immediate issue of interest is the completion of the nominating process for the next Director-General to replace Director-General Pascal Lamy who has held the office since September 2005. The next Director-General will be selected by the WTO out of a pool of nine candidates including who I believe are front-runners from Brazil, Mexico, and Ghana.
On January 9, the WTO released a short list of the candidates with links to their experience in international trade, each of whom merits a little consideration.
From Latin America, Brazil’s Roberto Carvalho de Azevedo, Costa Rica’s Anabel Gonzalez, and Mexico’s Herminio Blanco. Azevedo has tremendous experience negotiating on behalf of Brazil in the Doha round as well as within the Mercosur negotiations. Gonzalez held similar posts on behalf of Costa Rica in its negotiations with the US within CAFTA negotiations and within Costa Rica’s Ministry of Foreign Trade. Blanco has served as Mexico’s Minister of Foreign Trade and was a chief negotiator of NAFTA. With the decade long stalemate, observers despair of any global agreement finding any resolution to trade disagreements, but instead predict a continuation of bilateral and multilateral agreements in multipolar world. The US remains the strongest of those poles, with Canada, Japan, and Europe traditionally possessing enough leverage to negotiate their own agreements. Of all candidates, these Latin American trade delegates have exactly the experience in bilateral and multilateral trade negotiations with the US which will make them strong candidates for selection this spring. Narrowing it down, Brazil’s economic power and Blanco’s experience make it likely that Azevedo or Blanco will be high on the list of successors for Lamy.
From Africa, Ghana’s Alan John Kwadwo Kyerematen and Kenya’s Amina C. Mohamed join the pool of candidates. The WTO has not yet had an African or Latin American Director-General, and I would be more optimistic about that changing if Nigeria or South Africa proposed a responsible candidate. With GDP’s at $39 and $33 billion respectively, Ghana and Kenya would truly represent the developing world in a position of leadership at the WTO. From 2001 to the recent financial collapse, Ghana has also liberalized trade, reducing tariffs and subsidies, and witnessed fairly robust growth, progress noted here by the WTO in 2008. Kyerematen is credited with overseeing these trade liberalizations in the early 2000s. Kenya has similarly shown steady growth since 2001, despite the collapse in 2008, and is now growing at 4-6% annually. Unlike Ghana, Kenya’s trade liberalization appears to be mired by greater bureaucracy and Kenya has also expressed greater frustrations with the WTO and has entered bilateral agreements with India, who share the frustrations with lack of access to international agriculture markets. Mohamed represented Kenya at the UN and continues to serve Kenya as an Assistant Secretary General with responsibilities for the UN Environmental Program in Nairobi. Neither of these candidates appears particularly strong on trade negotiations.
From Asia, Indonesia’s Mari Elka Pangestu and Korea’s Taeho Bark join the nominees. An economist with a PhD from UC-Davis Pangestu lectures at the University of Indonesia. With seven years’ experience as the Minister of Trade for Indonesia Pangestu is now the Minister of Tourism, certainly critical to Indonesia’s economy, but would probably be of greater service returning to issues of international trade. As one academic to another: I am rooting for you, Minister Pangestu! PhDs of the world unite! (Although, if honest, I remain generally convinced that Azevedo or Blanco will get the position.)
Tim Groser of New Zealand and Ahmad Thougan Hindawi of Jordan are the final two nominees. If New Zealand sounds at first like an odd place from which the next WTO Director-General will emerge, it is worth noting that from 1999 to 2002, New Zealander Mike Moore held the Director-General post. All respect to Tim Groser aside, this is strong enough for me to remain skeptical that the position will return to a New Zealander, but with a GDP of $142 billion New Zealand is far smaller an economy than Mexico, Nigeria, Turkey, South Africa. Of course, it is a much smaller nation, and it has had trade difficulties in a South Pacific dominated by China, Australia, Indonesia, Singapore, and Japan where it hopes for more open markets for exports of dairy and mutton as well as iron and timber. Tim Groser also proposes to make climate change– of tremendous concern to island nations of the South Pacific– to the forefront of Doha deliberations. Like Kyerematen of Ghana, Jordan’s Hindawi oversaw his nations liberalization of trade and reform of domestic economic policies in conformance with WTO prerogatives in the early and mid2000s, having served as Jordan’s Assistant Secretary General of the Ministry of Industry and Trade. Another PhD in the pool, this time with advanced degrees in manufacturing, Hindawi also has extensive experience with Arab mining and has served as a consulatant in Dubai.
The WTO members will be making a selection from this pool before May, and when the nominees is selected I will return to this topic and give them greater scrutiny, but for now a comment on the field: These candidates share a general commitment to the expansion of economies in the developing world, an increase which optimistically will improve the material well-being of their citizens, and most of them have shared in the recent work of policy reform at home and negotiation abroad. No European or developed-nation nominee means a genuine possibility of seeing leadership from the developing world at the apex of this global institution and, in the context of the Doha round’s commitment to development this could portend a breakthrough for the more poor nations in the world. (With that being said, past D-Gs have originated from New Zealand and Thailand, as well as Ireland, so I must note that this will not be the first time a developing nation D-G held the post, and I leave it to the vast Irish diaspora to let me know if Ireland today is developing or developed.)
And yet, many observers fear that the WTO’s inaction for a decade has led to a pragmatic resurrection of bilateral and multilateral trade negotiations, eclipsing the WTO. This has meant the return of the developing nations to a position without collective leverage in their negotiations with the US, China, or Europe making the WTO increasingly irrelevant. Can a leader from the developing world shape the WTO into a force in the next four years which can compel the developed nations to address their very real concerns about trade barriers, climate change, or an increasing polarization between the developed and developing worlds?