When Kenya’s Amina Mohamed faced the interviewing panel yesterday (Thursday) for the top-seat of the World Trade Organisation(WTO), she certainly felt a sense of déjà vu.
Just several years back in 2013, she sat through a similar interview, but was unsuccessful in her quest to become director-general of the global organisation. She lost to Brazil’s Roberto Azevedo, who will step down a year early at the end of August.
Perhaps undeterred by the previous setback, Ms Mohamed is back in the race this year hoping to break a series of jinxed bids for global and continental jobs.
She will be hoping to avoid a hat-trick of failed attempts at landing top international and continental jobs since 2013 when she was edged out of the race for the WTO director-general job. In 2017 Ms Amina, who is Sports Cabinet Secretary, lost to Chad’s Moussa Faki Mahamat in the race for chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC).
Despite being a last-minute candidate for the WTO position, Kenya has expressed confidence in her bid.
“Kenya offers Amina Mohamed, a uniquely qualified person, to lead the WTO at this critical time. If selected, she would be the first African and indeed, the first woman to serve at the helm of the World Trade Organisation,” President Uhuru Kenyatta said.
“Minister Mohamed understands the WTO, understands its processes, having chaired all its high-level decision-making bodies. For example, the Ministerial Conference, General Council, Dispute Settlement Body as well as the Trade Policy Review Body.”
Ms Mohamed will be banking on her history with the WTO when she has previously served in different roles. In 2005, she was Chairperson of the General Council -- the highest-level decision making organ of the WTO and which is composed of envoys from member States. She also served as head of the Dispute Settlement Body and Trade Policy Review Body.
Ms Mohamed faces a tough race for the job that has attracted eight candidates, including two women from Africa.
The other contestants are former UK Trade Secretary Liam Fox, ex-Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Egyptian commercial law academic Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh, and Jesús Seade Kuri of Mexico.
Others are Moldova’s Tudor Ulianovschi, Saudi Arabia’s former Economy minister Mohammad Mazia al-Tualjri and Ms Yoo Myung-hee of South Korea.
Analysts say the presence of Ms Mohamed and Ms Okonjo-Iweala in the race has raised expectations that the WTO could choose its first female and first African director-general.
Emily Rees, a fellow at the European Centre for International Political Economy think-tank in Brussels, said that their ministerial experience as well as gender and geography would help raise the credibility of the organisation.
“It helps that both the Kenyan and Nigerian candidates come from the political side,” she said. “With the WTO needing to raise its game, it’s not really time for a technocrat,” she told the Financial Times.
Following the closure of the nominations on July 8, the eight candidates have been appearing before WTO members at a special General Council meeting that began on July 15 and ends today. At this meeting, the candidates are given the opportunity to present their views and take questions from the membership.
The second phase of the process in which the candidates “make themselves known to members” will end on September 7, paving the way for a third phase in which the WTO General Council chair, David Walker, together with the chair of the Dispute Settlement Body, Dacio Castillo of Honduras and the chair of the Trade Policy Review Body, Harald Aspelund of Iceland, will start to consult with all WTO members to assess their preferences and seek to determine which candidate is best placed to attract consensus support.
This phase may involve more than one stage of consultations as members seek to narrow the field of candidates. The third phase will last no more than two months.
The decision now rests with the 160 members of the WTO amid concerns on the deteriorating state of global trade in the wake of disputes among super powers such the US, China and Britain among others.
The incoming WTO boss faces an unprecedented set of challenges such as intensifying global trade tensions, rising protectionism as well as a coronavirus-induced dive in global trade.
According to an analysis by Reuters, the immediate challenges facing the organisation's new chief will include saving the multilateral’s dispute-settlement system, which has been weakened by a US block on appointments of judges to its appellate body.
The director-general will also face complaints from Washington, Tokyo and Brussels that the organisation’s rule book is a relic of the 1990s that is ill-adapted to the rise of developing countries and Chinese industrial subsidies.
The EU has complained that countries are overusing so-called “special and differential treatment” provisions intended to give developing economies more favourable trade terms.
The US, EU and Japan have also agreed joint proposals on restricting state aid to businesses and industries.