Race for WTO chief puts spotlight on aid vs. trade

Top: Amina Mohamed and Alan John Kwadwo Kyerematen; bottom: Mari Elka Pangetsu and Ahmad Thougan Hindawi. Photo by: UN, UNCTAD, World Economic Forum and Wikipedia

Developing country leaders have long pushed for changes to global trade that would make them less reliant on foreign aid - and now the prospect of winning the top job at the World Trade Organization may add fuel to the fire.

Nominations for the job of WTO director-general were due Dec. 31, and six of the nine individuals hail from the developing world. Alan John Kwadwo Kyerematen from Ghana, Mari Elka Pangetsu from Indonesia, Ahmad Thougan Hindawi from Jordan and Herminio Blanco Mendoza from Mexico have served as trade ministers. Kenya nominee Amina Mohamed is the U.N. deputy executive director of the U.N. Environment Program; Roberto Carvalho de Azevêdo is Brazil’s permanent representative to the WTO.

Rounding out the list of nominees are Anabel González from Costa Rica, Tim Groser from New Zealand and Taeho Bark from South Korea.

Developing countries continue to suffer from trade barriers erected by Europe, the United States and other industrialized countries, and so it’s little wonder that Indonesia, for instance, has expressed the hope that Pangetsu’s nomination will “bridge the interest of developing countries and developed countries in WTO,” as presidential spokesman Teuku Faizasyah told the Straits Times.

This would not the first time someone from the developing country would head the global body, which has been largely criticized for failing to close a deal as part of the Doha negotiations that started in 2001. Among the negotiations’ main objectives is to lower trade barriers, which would boost export opportunities for developing countries and a chance to cut their dependence on foreign aid. Supachai Panitchpakdi from Thailand headed the WTO from 2002 to 2005.

There’s a danger, however, that developing countries will fail to unite behind a single candidate, given the plethora of nominations.

Candidates are expected to present their “vision” for the organization on Jan. 29 at WTO headquarters in Geneva. The organization is expected to announce its new director-general in May, three months before Pascal Lamy’s term expires in August. Whether controversial schemes such as aid-for-trade will be raised in those proceedings remains to be seen.

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.

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