Next WTO chief must steer reforms in the face of rising protectionism

Next WTO chief must steer reforms in the face of rising protectionism
Egypt's Hamid Mamdouh, one of the first people to officially declare his candidacy to replace Roberto Azevedo as Director-General of the World Trade Organization. (Reuters)
Short Url
Updated 09 June 2020

Next WTO chief must steer reforms in the face of rising protectionism

Next WTO chief must steer reforms in the face of rising protectionism

GENEVA: The World Trade Organization (WTO) began the process on Monday of selecting a new director-general to replace Brazil’s Roberto Azevedo, who is stepping down a year early at the end of August.

Azevedo’s successor will need to steer reforms and negotiations in the face of rising protectionism, a deep recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and growing trade tensions, notably between the US and China.

The Geneva-based body normally takes 9 months to choose a new chief but now wants to do so in three. It prefers to pick a chief by consensus, moving to a vote only as a last resort.

Below is a summary of possible candidates:


Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Nigeria), board chair of global vaccine alliance GAVI:

Okonjo-Iweala, 65, is an economist and development specialist who has served as Nigeria’s foreign minister and finance minister as as a managing director of the World Bank. The former Harvard and MIT student’s work has involved efforts to make immunization programs financially sustainable.

Eloi Laourou (Benin), ambassador to the UN and WTO:

Diplomat for 30 years and champion of the rights of poorer countries as ex-coordinator of a group of the least developed countries. Holding a doctorate in international law and international relations, he co-chairs a working group of French-speaking countries on trade and development.

Hamid Mamdouh (Egypt), currently Geneva-based lawyer:

A former trade negotiator for Egypt and ex-WTO official who helped draft an agreement on trade in services in the landmark Uruguay Round deal — an experience which he said gave him essential “bridge-building” skills.

Mamdouh, 67, is currently advising the G20 presidency, Saudi Arabia, on trade and investment matters. 

Amina Mohamed, (Kenya) sport and culture minister:

Mohamed, 58, is a former Kenyan ambassador to the WTO who was the first woman to chair the WTO’s General Council in 2005.

She ran for the director general post unsuccessfully in 2013. Her CV says she speaks four languages, has a law degree and is an “excellent strategist and visionary” who has advocated broad participation in the WTO reform process.


Arancha Gonzalez Laya (Spain), Spanish foreign minister:

A lawyer, she served as chief of staff to then-WTO chief Pascal Lamy between 2005 and 2013. Trade officials say she may be unacceptable to the US administration given strained relations with Washington under Lamy’s leadership.

Phil Hogan (Ireland), European trade commissioner:

He is in his second role as a European commissioner, previously covering agriculture, and is considering a WTO bid. A politician of the center-right Fine Gael party, he has also served as a minister in two Irish governments.

He advocates reform at the WTO, agreeing with the US and Japan on the need to update global rules on industrial subsidies. But his own relations with Washington have been less cordial amid persistent transatlantic trade tension.


Jesus Seade (Mexico), senior trade official in Mexican government:

Mexico is set to propose Seade, who helped rework the North American Free Trade Agreement, sources said on Sunday. He previously worked at universities in Hong Kong.