Published On: Mon, May 18th, 2020

Is it the time for an African at the helm of the World Trade Organisation ?

So the WTO needs a new director-general to succeed Roberto Azevêdo,  who announced resignation last weekend.

Who will replace him? After a Brazilian, a Frenchman (Pascal Lamy), a Thai (Supachai Panitchpakdi) and a New Zealander (Mike Moore), the Africans think it’s their turn and have a summit scheduled for July to sound out candidates. Some frontrunners include Amina Mohamed, Kenya’s former trade minister or the current UNCTAD Secretary General Dr. Mukhisa Kituyi and former minister of trade in Kenya.

The Europeans also have a couple of potential female candidates in Arancha González (former chief of staff to Lamy) and Cecilia Malmstrom, who has just stepped down as EU trade commissioner. But González has just started as Spain’s foreign minister and Malmstrom is known not to be interested. In any case, would the Trump administration, at loggerheads with the EU over the future of the organisation, really countenance a European in charge? And that’s really the issue. You could make Xi Jinping or Angela Merkel head of the WTO but it wouldn’t make any difference unless governments, and particularly the US, are prepared to listen.

In the meantime, a smart idea would be to appoint deputy director-general Alan Wolff to do the job on an acting basis and not rush the appointment. Wolff, an American, is not only a serious intellectual heavyweight, highly experienced (he was one of the negotiators who got the Uruguay Round over the line in 1994) and extremely well-connected in the trade world; he also used to work alongside Lighthizer as an antidumping lawyer for the US steel industry.

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Is it the time for an African at the helm of the World Trade Organisation ?
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