Talk, but little action, to break U.S. grip on World Bank job

Thu Feb 16, 2012 4:53am EST
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By Emily Kaiser

(Reuters) - Emerging markets talked up their desire to break Washington's hold on the top World Bank job on Thursday after Robert Zoellick announced he would step down, yet they showed little inclination to band together to force change.

Much like in 2011, when Dominique Strauss-Kahn resigned as managing director of the International Monetary Fund, officials from countries such as Brazil and the Philippines said it was time to break the decades-old pattern of putting an American in charge of the World Bank and a European atop the IMF.

"It is not so much the identity of Mr. Zoellick's replacement that concerns us but rather the process in which his successor is selected," said Philippines Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima.

"We are confident that given the increasing importance of emerging markets in the global economy, outdated practices of the past will be revisited," he said.

However, there was not much evidence that emerging markets could field a candidate and build a coalition large enough to challenge the United States.

Zoellick will leave his post in June, when his term ends. U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said on Wednesday that Washington would put forward a candidate "in the coming weeks" and called for an open process to fill the job.

An emerging market official told Reuters there was an effort to pull together a campaign behind a non-U.S. candidate, but there was little enthusiasm because most countries were preoccupied with domestic issues, including impending leadership changes and battling the global downturn. The official declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Indeed, the two people most often mentioned are both American: former U.S. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The State Department said Clinton would not be taking the job.   Continued...

World Bank President Robert Zoellick attends a session at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, January 28, 2012. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann