Hopefuls for the World Trade Organization (WTO) director-general seat admit that the agency can only be reformed by member states.

In an initial session of submissions, the eight candidates pledged to make the WTO responsive to modern trade.

The candidates, including Kenya’s Amina Mohamed, Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Abdel-Hamid Mamdou of Egypt, appeared before the General Council in Geneva on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday respectively.

The other contenders are Liam Fox of Britain, Jesús Seade Kuri (Mexico), Tudor Ulianovschi (Moldova), Mohammad Mazia al-Tualjri (Saudi Arabia) and Yoo Myung-hee of South Korea.

HIGHER CHANGES

Amina narrowly lost to Brazilian Roberto Azevedo in 2013. Africa’s chances are higher this year, given that it has never produced a director-general since the WTO’s formation 25 years ago.

Amina told the envoys she will encourage member states pursue “reform, recovery and renewal”.

“An effective WTO will help create the conditions for a sustainable recovery from the economic fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic,” she said.

“WTO was in difficulties before Covid-19 struck. Its negotiating function had faltered, with only limited successes.”

She admitted that the director-general, as an executive policy implementer, may just be as weak, if the 164 member states do not choose to make those changes.

“The membership needs to agree on reforms and priorities,” she said.

The Kenyan Sports minister has worked at the WTO, where she headed the highest decision-making organ.

NIGERIAN’S PROMISE

Ngozi Okonji-Iweala has been an MD at the World Bank and finance minister in Nigeria.

She promises “to bring a fresh pair of eyes to a WTO that appears paralysed and unable to update its rule book”.

“Overcoming these challenges will require strong engagement and commitment from members. This is the only way the WTO can produce concrete results,” she said.

She told the panel that her stint at the World Bank toughened her negotiation skills, especially on economic reforms and debt relief.

The Bank has been accused of forcing down the throats of poor nations structural adjustment programmes and conditional loans.

COMMON PURPOSE

For the Egyptian commercial law academic Mamdouh, the WTO “could be lost if it fails to get a common purpose”.