GENEVA/BRUSSELS (Reuters) - World Trade Organization members are considering five candidates to replace Brazil’s Roberto Azevedo, who stepped down as director-general on Aug. 31, a year early.
The new WTO chief will need to steer reform and negotiations in the face of rising protectionism, a deep recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and growing trade tensions, notably between the United States and China.
The field includes three women vying to be the WTO’s first female boss. A final decision is expected later this year, possibly after the U.S. election in November.
Below is a summary of the eight permanent candidates by order of their candidacy:
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Nigeria), 66, board chair of the global vaccine alliance Gavi
Okonjo-Iweala, one of three women and two Africans in the race, is an economist and development specialist who has served as Nigeria’s foreign minister and finance minister and as a managing director of the World Bank. Branding herself a “do-er”, she points to her negotiating skills that she says helped seal a deal to cancel billions of dollars of Nigerian debt.
Described by some as one of the top candidates, she told Reuters she has “strong support” from Africa.
Yoo Myung-hee (South Korea), 53, trade minister
South Korea’s first female trade minister previously led the renegotiation of a trade deal with the United States and worked on Seoul’s trade pacts.
Yoo vows to make the WTO more “relevant, resilient and responsive” and rebuild trust in the body.
Korea has ended its “developing country” status, a move welcomed by the United States. However, the country is in a tit-for-tat dispute with Japan, which some experts say could hinder Korea’s third bid for the director-general position.
Amina Mohamed (Kenya), 58, sport and culture minister
Mohamed is a former Kenyan ambassador to the WTO who in 2005 was the first woman to chair the WTO’s General Council.
She ran for the top post unsuccessfully in 2013 though she says she has gained key skills since, including through chairing a Nairobi ministerial conference where deals were struck.
She has advocated broad participation in the WTO reform process and expressed some sympathy with U.S. criticism of the body. Some delegates see her as a frontrunner.
Mohammad Al-Tuwaijri (Saudi Arabia), minister advising the royal court
Al-Tuwaijri, who studied aeronautics and business, was a Saudi Air Force pilot before working for a number of banks. He became minister of economy and state planning from 2017 until he was relieved of his post in March. He has also been on the board of directors at Saudi Aramco, Saudi Railways and Saudi Arabian Airlines and says his private sector experience allows him to take a “fresh look” at the WTO.
Some delegates say political tensions with Qatar might prevent him earning broader support.
Liam Fox (Britain), 58, member of parliament
A former doctor and defence minister, Fox campaigned for Britain to leave the European Union and, after the Brexit vote, became secretary of state for international trade, but lost his position a year ago.
Fox, who was given early odds of 33/1 by betting agency Ladbrokes before the vetting process began, says this is a job for a politician “and probably one who has been around for a while and carries the scars of the most difficult battles.”
Reporting by Emma Farge in Geneva, Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels, William James in London, Katharine Houreld in Nairobi; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Andrew Heavens
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