Thursday, April 4, 2013

Kenya backs ex-envoy Amina for world trade group’s top position

Amina Mohamed of Kenya reacts during a press conference following a hearing on January 30, 2013 at the World Trade Organization (WTO) headquarters in Geneva. Ms Mohamed is lobbying for support for her bid to lead the WTO. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Ms Amina Mohamed of Kenya reacts during a press conference following a hearing on January 30, 2013 at the World Trade Organization (WTO) headquarters in Geneva. Ms Mohamed is lobbying for support for her bid to lead the WTO. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP  NATION

By ALLAN ODHIAMBO aodhiambo@ke.nationmedia.com

Kenya has reaffirmed its candidature for the top WTO job as the final selection of applicants for the position got underway in Geneva.

Kenya’s envoy to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Mr John Kakonge and Mr Dan Owoko of the Ministry of Trade on Tuesday appeared before the team that is coordinating the selection of the agency’s next chief executive.

The two declared the country’s support for Ms Amina Mohamed, the Kenyan diplomat who is among nine people running for the top job.

Ms Mohamed, who worked as a diplomat in Geneva for many years, is among the front-runners for the job.

While in Geneva, she served in the WTO’s three main bodies, including the Trade Policy Review Body (TPRB), Dispute Settlement Body and at the General Council, gaining lots of experience in the delicate art of economic diplomacy.

The chairman of the WTO General Council, Mr Shahid Bashir, commenced consultations aimed at helping members build consensus on the suitability of the candidates and gradually trim the number of applicants until a final candidate is appointed on May 31, 2013.

An informal meeting between Mr Bashir and heads of delegations from the competing countries on March 13 agreed that the selection process be conducted in three rounds that will gradually eliminate candidates, leaving the best two for the final round.

Four candidates are expected to withdraw after the first round of consultations and another three in the second round.

“The outcome of the consultations shall be reported to the membership at each stage. Accordingly, the outcome of this first round of consultations will be reported to all members at an open-ended meeting of heads of delegation,” Mr Bashir said.

Mr Bashir is being assisted by chairs of the Dispute Settlement Body, Mr Jonathan Fried and the Trade Policy Review Body’s Joakim Reiter, making what is commonly referred to in WTO circles as the Trio.

Ms Mohamed of Kenya and Ghana’s Trade minister Alan John Kwadwo Kyerematen are the only African candidates in the race to succeed Mr Pascal Lamy as WTO director-general. Mr Lamy, a Frenchman will retire in August after completing two four-year terms at the helm of the global trade body.

Also in the race are Mexico’s Herminio Blanco, Costa Rica’s Anabel González, South Korea’s Taeho Bark, New Zealand’s Tim Groser, and Ahmad Hindawi of Jordan. Mari Pangestu of Indonesia and Brazilian Roberto Carvalho de Azevêdo have also been nominated for the job.

First round

The first round of consultations will be concluded by April 9, leaving only five candidates in the race to succeed Mr Lamy.

“In respecting the dignity of the candidates and the members nominating them, members who nominated candidates will be informed of the outcome immediately after each round and before the rest of the membership. This process will be repeated after each round of consultations, so as to ensure transparency, inclusiveness and full participation in every step of the process,” Mr Bashir said.

Civil servant

Ms Mohamed, a law graduate from the University of Kiev, has served as a civil servant for 26 years, having joined the public service as a legal advisor in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the 1980s.

She has held senior positions in government, including as Kenya’s diplomat in Geneva and as a permanent secretary in the Ministry of Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs in 2008.

She left three years later to join the UN as the UNEP deputy director and UN assistant secretary-general — a post she holds to date.

Africa, like other emerging market countries, are seeking to have one of its own in charge of the Geneva-based trading club, having lost two of the world’s half a dozen most powerful jobs at the IMF and the World Bank to Europe and America.

A director-general wields executive powers in WTO affairs and presides over trade disputes arising from the multilateral trading system.

Reviving the Doha round of trade talks has become tricky, partly because beyond shaping the agenda and cajoling and persuading member states, the director general has only limited powers to shepherd the 157 members of the global trade club.

Developing countries hope to use DDA talks to force developed nations to stop subsidising agriculture, a move that subjects the former’s produce to unfair competition in the marketplace. 

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