Amina gets State backing in race for top WTO job

   UN secretary-general Amina Mohamed is among the front-runners to replace Pascal Lamy as WTO director-general. AFP
UN secretary-general Amina Mohamed is among the front-runners to replace Pascal Lamy as WTO director-general. AFP 

Kenya has reaffirmed its candidature for the top World Trade Organisation job as the final selection of applicants got under way in Geneva.

Kenya’s envoy to the WTO John Kakonge and Dan Owoko of the Ministry of Trade on Tuesday appeared before the team coordinating the selection of the agency’s next chief executive and declared the country’s support for Amina Mohamed, the Kenyan diplomat who is among the nine people running for the job.

Ms Mohamed, who worked as a diplomat in Geneva for many years, is among the front-runners for the job. While in Geneva, she served in the WTO’s three main bodies, including the Trade Policy Review Body (TPRB), the Dispute Settlement Body and the General Council, gaining unparalleled experience in the delicate art of economic diplomacy.

The chairman of the WTO General Council Shahid Bashir begun consultations aimed at helping members build consensus on the suitability of the candidates and gradually trim the number till a final candidate is appointed on May 31.

An informal meeting between Mr Bashir and heads of delegations from the competing countries on March 13 agreed that the selection process be conducted in three rounds that will gradually eliminate candidates leaving the best two for the final round.

Four candidates are expected to withdraw after the first round and another three in the second round.

“The outcome of the consultations shall be reported to the membership at each stage. Accordingly, the outcome of this first round of consultations will be reported to all members at an open-ended meeting of heads of delegation,” Mr Bashir said.

The chairman is being assisted by the chairs of the Dispute Settlement Body and the Trade Policy Review Body, Jonathan Fried and Joakim Reiter, making what is commonly referred to in WTO circles as the Trio.

Ms Mohamed of Kenya and Ghana’s trade minister Alan Kyerematen are the only African candidates. Also in the race are Mexico’s Herminio Blanco, Costa Rica’s Anabel González, South Korea’s  Taeho Bark, New Zealand’s Tim Groser, and Ahmad Hindawi of Jordan. Mari Pangestu of Indonesia and Brazilian Roberto Carvalho de Azevêdo have also been nominated.

The first round of consultations will be concluded by April 9.

“In respecting the dignity of the candidates and the members nominating them, members who nominated candidates will be informed of the outcome immediately after each round and before the rest of the membership,” Mr Bashir said.

Ms Mohamed, a law graduate from the University of Kiev, has served as a civil servant for 26 years having joined the public service as a legal advisor in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the 1980s.
She has held senior positions in government, including as Kenya’s diplomat in Geneva and as a permanent secretary in the Ministry of Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs in 2008.

She is now the Unep deputy director and UN assistant secretary-general, a post she holds to date.

Africa, like other emerging market countries, is seeking to have one of its own in charge of the Geneva-based trading club, having lost two of the world’s half a dozen most powerful jobs at the IMF and the World Bank to Europe and America.

A Director-General wields executive powers in WTO affairs and presides over trade disputes arising from the multilateral trading system.

Whoever succeeds current head Pascal Lamy is expected to provide a fresh impetus on the ongoing Doha Development Round of trade talks that have dragged on for more than a decade.

Developing countries hope to use the talks to force developed nations to stop subsidising agriculture, a move that subjects the former’s produce to unfair competition in the market.