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TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Feb13/03)
19 February 2013
Third World Network

WTO D-G candidate presentation process wraps up
Published in SUNS #7516 dated 1 February 2013

Geneva, 31 Jan (Kanaga Raja) -- Presentations by candidates for the post of Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) went into its final day Thursday at the General Council, with the last two out of the list of nine candidates putting forth their views.

The nine candidates for the D-G's post are Mr Alan John Kwadwo Kyerematen of Ghana, Ms Anabel Gonzalez of Costa Rica, Ms Mari Elka Pangestu of Indonesia, Mr Tim Groser of New Zealand, Ms Amina C. Mohamed of Kenya, Mr Ahmad Thougan Hindawi of Jordan, Mr Herminio Blanco of Mexico, Mr Taeho Bark of Korea and Mr Roberto Carvalho de Azevedo of Brazil.

The current Director-General Pascal Lamy's term of office ends on 31 August 2013.

The process was spread out over three days (29-31 January) with each of the nine candidates making their presentations and subsequently holding press conferences at the WTO (see SUNS #7515 dated 31 January 2013 for a report on some of the earlier presentations and press conferences).

One of the candidates who made her presentation on Wednesday was Ms Mohamed of Kenya.

In her media briefing following her presentation, Ms Mohamed said that she has had the privilege of working on major issues on the agenda of global governance and diplomacy.

She believed that she is uniquely qualified by training, experience, and a track record of delivery, especially here at the WTO, adding that she is hopeful and confident that the choice of WTO members will rationally result from competition, rational debate, merit and fairness.

These are the platforms on which she asked members for their support, and for them to evaluate her candidature.

"The best years of this organisation are not in the past, they are in the future. It's always a golden past but the best is never in the past," she said.

Asked about the fact that the African Union (AU) had issued a statement last July that their candidate was going to be Mr Kyerematen of Ghana and why Kenya decided to put forward her candidacy, she said that she is hoping that members of this organisation are going to judge her candidature on the basis of merit, competence, her track record, especially at the WTO, and a fair hearing.

She did not think that she started off wanting to divide the African Group. As a lawyer, she said she clearly understood what the procedures for endorsement of African candidates was all about. The procedures relate to election processes. They are not intended for selection or appointment processes.

"And therefore we did not violate any African procedures. In fact ... my government decided to nominate me in March. My friend Alan (from Ghana) got the African endorsement in July. And in March, we had a long discussion in capital on whether my name should be taken forward to the AU, and I advised against it on the informed basis that in fact those procedures are not intended for selection processes, but are supposed to be used for elections...," she said.

"... my intention was definitely not to break the African solidarity. But since I want to lead the World Trade Organisation which is a global organisation, I am hoping that the support that I will receive, if I do, will be across the board," she said, adding that it should be broad support and that it should not only be African support.

"And that's why I said that my candidature is based on fair play, merit, competence, and I am hoping that's how I would be judged, not as an African candidate but as a nominee from Kenya who wants to serve this global organisation," Ms Mohamed said.

She also said that it would be "a wonderful signal" if the membership of the organisation decided that a woman, preferably an African woman, should take over at the helm of the WTO. It would send a powerful signal to women, and to Africa.

"Africa is a continent that's on the move. Six of the ten fastest growing economies are in Africa and it will be a sign of recognition that Africa is doing well and that Africa has the merit to lead an organisation such as this one," she said.

On the stalled Doha Round negotiations, she was of the view that as Director-General and leader of the Secretariat, there are some measures that one can put in place, one of these being to ensure there is a stable forum for negotiating consensus among the membership.

The other thing is that one has to have priorities. "And I think it's time after 12 years of stalled negotiations to think of modernising the global trade agenda - upgrading it so that it can respond much more effectively to challenges of the twenty-first century."

The issues that the WTO should actually be taking into consideration right now are issues that relate to global concerns, food security, climate change, and others. "You need to have an agenda that has been upgraded, that has been modernised, that can respond effectively," she said.

She was of the view that Bali (venue of ninth ministerial conference this December) is going to be critical, as a place where "we agree to reap the low-hanging fruit" and agree to move forward on those, and where "we can develop an agenda for the post-Bali period."

Another candidate making a presentation on Wednesday was Mr Herminio Blanco of Mexico.

In his presentation, Mr Blanco said that if he were selected as Director-General, his main task would be, guided by the Members, to rescue the organisation from the perception of being in the cliff of irrelevancy.

He proposed three horizons, the first being the short-term horizon, namely, Bali. He said that it is a must to make MC9 in Bali a success, with concrete results in substantive issues. By the time the new Director-General takes office, Members have to have progressed enough in setting the basis of an agreement. His commitment is to get involved immediately and fully in whatever remains to be done, working closely with the Members.

On the medium-term horizon, namely, post-Bali and Doha, Mr Blanco said that once that Bali has succeeded, there are two tasks to be performed. The first and most urgent is the negotiating pillar. Reaching an agreement in Bali on certain issues will not mean that the remaining issues of Doha will disappear.

"Members will have to decide how to deal with them. The Director-General is not a negotiator but should be an effective bridge-builder. Ten FTAs [Free Trade Agreements] with 34 countries guarantee that I am a bridge-builder. We have to successfully conclude and leave the negotiations behind us as soon as possible."

The second task is related to the functioning of the regular bodies. If elected, he said he will consult with Members and the chairs of the different bodies on how to make them more efficient and relevant. This includes not only improving transparency issues, but also "using the fora we have at our disposal to have in-depth discussions of the issues that are part of the WTO's general mandate".

The third horizon relates to the integration of the RTAs (regional trade agreements) network in the WTO system. It is about how to ingrain within the WTO the solutions those agreements are bringing to the new, behind the border measures to trade in goods and services and seek ways to adopt them.

"I am aware it is not an easy task and cannot be done from one day to the next. But it is certainly something that requires serious and thorough consideration by Members. Successfully concluding the Doha negotiations will very much help in this endeavour," he said.

In all three horizons, there is the unavoidable responsibility of Members to ensure the full and prompt implementation of all multilateral measures that have been agreed upon to help economic development, in particular those benefiting the neediest among Members.

It is about effectively implementing special and differential treatment; solving the problem of commodities hard-hit by subsidies provided by developed countries; granting effective market access to products and services coming from developing countries, specially duty-free quota-free treatment to the least developed countries, as well as giving substance to the services waiver, said Mr Blanco.

The last two candidates making presentations on Thursday were Mr Bark of Korea and Mr Azevedo of Brazil.

In his presentation at the General Council, Mr Bark said that he would like to put forward a fundamental message, which is the need to rebuild trust.

"Whenever we face difficulties, I believe that problem-solving must start from going back to the basics. For the WTO, this means recreating a vibrant culture of Geneva-centred negotiations. To be clear, this does not mean holding meetings for the sake of meetings or responding to artificial deadlines. Rather, we must seek to restore the original Geneva-culture, whereby we discuss our differences frankly to explore possible solutions."

He added: "As I deeply realise and understand the current difficulties, my starting point is modest: to serve as an advocate for open dialogue. My aim as Director-General is to help WTO Members continue to engage and better understand the positions and restrictions of others. These actions shall aim at higher goals, first of all, to strengthen the trust between you and the Secretariat, and among yourselves. Once we have worked hard towards generating this critical level of trust - and you can be assured with the highest confidence of my role as an honest broker - there will come the moment when we will be able to move together towards a final agreement of the DDA [Doha Development Agenda] negotiations."

Looking at the DDA, Mr Bark said that it is without a doubt, the most important task of the WTO at present. It is also clear that 2013 will be challenging as the Ministerial is fast approaching. The Bali Ministerial at the end of the year will need to yield some tangible outcomes not only to realise the actual economic benefits, but to restore the confidence of Members as well as the broader credibility of the WTO.

"Through the month of August, we need to lay a solid foundation for its success. We should then build upon that groundwork and yield real outcomes, at least, in areas such as trade facilitation as well as some agricultural and development issues."

He added that "Expectations hinge on whether and how we can seize the momentum to revitalise the remaining agenda of the Doha Round after the MC9 [Bali Ministerial]. I believe that all the pieces will be on the table by then. What remains is to take a fresh perspective on how to sort them out. It is at this point that we can move beyond the past stand-offs and the divisions among the WTO Members. The outcomes from Bali will help foster the right atmosphere to address the remaining issues on the DDA, because they shall be considered as a stepping stone toward accomplishing the ultimate single-undertaking."

Mr Bark also said that while the WTO addresses traditional issues, "we all recognise that the world is rapidly changing. 21st century issues, such as green energy, the global value chain, food security, standard and safety, natural resources, and water management, all have direct and indirect effects on trade."

To keep abreast of such changes, Mr Bark said that the WTO must also evolve in an organic way, while staying within the boundaries of its mandate as a trade organisation.

In his media briefing following his presentation, Mr Azevedo, who was the Brazilian ambassador to the WTO, said that in his presentation, he had pointed out that in his view, the organisation has a clear problem in one of its three pillars.

On the first pillar of the implementation of the Agreements, he said that this is working well in the subsidiary bodies.

On the second pillar of dispute settlement, he said that this is also working well. There is a way to improve it particularly making it workable for the smaller delegations, which have difficulties trying to use the system. It's a costly, heavy and lengthy procedure, he added.

On the third pillar on negotiations, he said that this concerns him the most. It has been almost 20 years since anything has been negotiated in the WTO. "And people are concerned in general about the fact that the WTO is outside the radar. They don't know what to do or how to put the WTO back on the agenda."

Mr Azevedo said that his explanation to them was that unless the WTO begins to deliver again in terms of results, new agreements, and new disciplines, it would remain outside the radar of public opinion and public operators in general.

"No amount of speeches, no amount of road-shows, no amount of marketing is going to change this reality or make the negotiations advance."

In his view, "if you want to change this situation, you need a D-G who can do a hands-on job. He has to sit down with members, roll up the sleeves together with the members and face the issues head-on. For one, I don't think that we can move forward without resuming the Round. Unless we sit down and try to figure out a way of making the Round move forward, the system will remain clogged."

He added: "Of course, the WTO has many things to do. It is much bigger than the Round, but the reality is that the Round is clogging the system. So, unless we do that, unless we find a way to move forward, this system will remain paralysed."

He said that his point to members is that he has the ability and expertise to do it, because he can operate both at the technical and the more strategic political level.

"Why, because I have been doing this for a long time and I have the trust, mostly, of members from all different trends and positions," he said, adding that he could dialogue openly and exchange views with trust in a constructive spirit with members from all different ends of the negotiating spectrum.

In response to a question, Mr Azevedo said that what is needed today more than anything is expertise to find solutions and that does not happen frankly at the Ministerial level. Ministers are very important to close rounds but you have to walk ninety percent of the way before the Ministers can really finalise the deal.

"We are not ninety percent of the way done. There is still a long way to go. So, if you want to work only at the political level, you're going to be stuck. I don't know what D-G could possibly close a deal talking to Ministers only and without understanding what the problems are at the negotiating table...", he said, adding that what is needed today is expertise to roll up the sleeves and work at the negotiating level.

"If the D-G's can't do that, I think they're in trouble, frankly."

Besides expertise, Mr Azevedo said that what is needed is a D-G that would not face mistrust in the membership, that the membership feels that they have a D-G who can understand, listen and talk to all sides of the negotiating table. "I think that's the greatest asset that the next D-G could have besides being very knowledgeable of the system."

The biggest challenge for any D-G at this point in time is solving the Round in whatever way. "The reality is that the Round at this point in time is paralysing the system and we have to solve it..."

Mr Azevedo also said that Brazil had made clear from the very beginning that it favours that the next D-G should come from a developing country, preferably from Africa or Latin America. +

 


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