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Africa vs the West: Who will take the WTO helm?

The World Trade Organization on Monday kicked off the process for selecting a new director-general, after its current chief Roberto Azevedo decided to leave a year early.

With Azevedo, a Brazilian career diplomat, now set to leave on August 31, the WTO opened a one-month window for would-be successors to put forward their candidacies.

Mainly African and European names are currently circulating in the media as likely candidates.

While there is no geographic rotation principle at the global trade body, African countries have long insisted that it should finally be the continent’s turn to head the organisation.

Several African names appear likely to be in the running, including former Egyptian diplomat Hamid Mamdou, who worked with the WTO for years.

Nigeria has backed Ngozi Okondha-Iweala for the post. She has served as Nigeria’s minister of foreign affairs and of finance and currently serves as board chair of GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance.

Eloi Laourou, Benin’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, has also been mentioned as a likely candidate.

The African Union had voiced the ambition to settle on a single African candidate to put forward, but it remains unclear if it will manage to do so before the July 8 deadline.

The AU, like everyone else, believed it had more time on its hands, since the search for Azevedo’s successor had been scheduled to start in December.
However, the surprise announcement last month of his early departure has left everyone scrambling.

Diplomats acknowledge that Africa may be in line for the post since the continent has never before provided a WTO director-general.

But a growing number of voices are also being raised for putting a representative from a developed country in charge, to ensure an economy category alternance after seven years with a Brazilian at the helm.

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