Politics and policy

Kenya nominates envoy to head global trade team

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Ms Amina Mohamed, the UN assistant secretary-general, who has been nominated to head the World Trade Organisation when Mr Pascal Lamy retires in August. file

Ms Amina Mohamed, the UN assistant secretary-general, who has been nominated to head the World Trade Organisation when Mr Pascal Lamy retires in August. file 

By  George Omondi

Posted  Monday, December 31   2012 at  21:54

In Summary

  • Ms Mohamed, a law graduate from the University of Kiev, has served as a civil servant for 26 years. She joined the public service as a legal advisor in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and rose through the ranks to the position of permanent secretary in the Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs Ministry in 2008. She left three years later to join the UN.
  • She will faceoff with Ghana’s trade minister Alan John Kwadwo Kyerematen, Mexico’s Herminio Blanco and Costa Rica’s minister Anabel González.
  • Kenya and other developing nations see taking leadership of WTO as the only way to get to the influential position of re-writing trade rules and gaining greater access to the developed countries’ markets.

Kenya could give the world the first female head of the global top trade agency, taking its pursuit of diplomatic presence in key international state organisations to a higher level.

The nomination of Amina Mohamed, the UN Environmental Programme deputy director and UN assistant secretary-general to succeed Frenchman Pascal Lamy as the head of the World Trade Organisation also represents the quest for increased control by developing countries of key multilateral development institutions.

Kenya forwarded its nomination to the General Council of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on the Friday before Christmas, 10 days before the New Year eve deadline.

“She is a result-oriented team leader and a good negotiator who is fluent in English, Russian and Kiswahili and has a working knowledge of French. Her work experience covers a broad spectrum of domestic and international assignments in Europe and the Commonwealth,” the bio data forwarded to WTO General Council reads in part.

Kenya and other developing nations see taking leadership of WTO as the only way to get to the influential position of re-writing trade rules and gaining greater access to the developed countries’ markets.

African countries account for less than three per cent (Sh48 trillion in 2010) of global trade in goods. They hope to use WTO’s power of crafting rules of global and bilateral trade relations to reduce some of the barriers that have locked them out of developed countries’ markets.

Due to lopsided rules, Kenya exports about half of its products (48 per cent of the Sh511 billion worth of goods in 2011) to African countries, the rest of the world sharing 52 per cent.

Ms Mohamed will faceoff with Ghana’s trade minister Alan John Kwadwo Kyerematen, Mexico’s Herminio Blanco and Costa Rica’s minister Anabel González.
South Korea’s minister Taeho Bark, New Zealand’s Tim Groser, Ahmad Hindawi of Jordan, Mari Pangestu of Indonesia and Brazilian Roberto Carvalho de Azevêdo have also been nominated to replace Mr Lamy when his tenure expires at the end of August.

Ms Mohamed, a law graduate from the University of Kiev, has served as a civil servant for 26 years. She joined the public service as a legal advisor in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and rose through the ranks to the position of permanent secretary in the Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs Ministry in 2008. She left three years later to join the UN.

“She is a distinguished African diplomat who rose through the ranks in Kenya’s public service to the highest level of Permanent Representative to the UN,” the government says in its nomination citation.

Like Mr Lamy who rose to the position straight from the French civil service, Ms Mohamed will be fighting for the leadership of the global trade body from the hands of politicians nominated by the seven countries.

Her nomination comes against a general push by WTO members to hand the position to an African, Latin American or Caribbean (ACP) candidate given that the position has since the WTO establishment been held by representatives of developed nations.

Under this campaign, Thailand’s Supachai Panitchpakdi, who was replaced by Mr Lamy eight years ago, is seen to have held the mantle as a representative of Asia.

The European Union where Mr Lamy and Norwegian chairperson of General Council Elin Johansen come from opted not to nominate any candidate, leaving the bloc’s votes up for grabs.

But the contest pitting Kenya and Ghana puts the African Union in an awkward position where it cannot rally its members behind a single candidate despite advocating for a stronger voice for Africa in the global trade body. That means Kenya’s Foreign minister Sam Ongeri and Trade minister Moses Wetang’ula will have to engage in shuttle diplomacy to campaign for Ms Mohamed.

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