Could the next director-general for WTO come from  Africa?

Trade Focus with  Sitshengisiwe Ndlovu
The World Trade Organisation continues  to search for the next  director-general after the departure of  Roberto  Azevedo  before the expiry of his term. His   second four-year-term  would have ended in September 2021.

The former  WTO director -general  resigned  at the height of the marauding Covid-19  when international trade was facing a test of all times as countries took protectionist positions shacking the multilateral trading system to the core.

The tariff wars between China and the US continued to poke holes into the  rule- based system as championed by World Trade Organisation.

The nomination process of the candidates for the vacant post of WTO director -general has been rigorous as the world  searches  for a candidate that should possess a number of qualities.

The world  expects the incumbent to be able to reinvent the WTO through trade reforms that will not  only  be  reflective of the new normal  as dictated by the impact of Covid-19 but  will also have the enormous task  of harmonising trade divergent  views from the 164 members of the World Trade Organisation that include  US and China.

The initial nominees list comprised eight candidates.

Within the eight candidates, three were from Africa with the potent effect of causing a split within Africa members on who to rally behind.

However, analysts  have ruled that support of the key trade partners namely US, EU and China on a particular candidate will have tremendous influence on the outcome of the whole selection process.

On September 18, 2020 the selection  list was shortened to five candidates  from the initial  eight after a rigorous selection process  by  164 members of  the  WTO .

The initial nominees  of eight candidates consisted of  Ngozi Okonjo–Ikweala (Nigeria), Liam Fox (UK), Hamid Mamdouh (Egypt), Tudor Ulianovisch (Moldova), Yoo Myung-hee (South Korea), Amina Mohamed (Kenya), Jesus Seade (Mexico)  and Muhammad Al-Tuwaijiri (Saudi Arabia).

The  short list  of five candidates  consists of  (not in any order) Amina Mohamed   (Kenya), Ngozi Okonjo- Ikweala (Nigeria), Yoo Myung-hee (South Korea), Muhammad Al-Tuwaijiri (Saudi Arabia), and former British Prime Minister  Liam Fox (UK).

The second phase selection process began on September 24 and will end on October 6.

The process will select two candidates   from which one candidate will be nominated to be the WTO director-general in the final process that should be concluded by November 7.

It is important to note that the WTO has had no female leader in the past 25 years.

The current short list of five candidates has three women candidates of which two are from Africa.

The three women candidates have profound experience and credentials that make the race for the post tough for the nominators.

Amina Mohamed is former International Trade Minister in Kenya after being an ambassador to the WTO in Geneva.

Nominee Ngozi Okonjo–Ikweala is a former Minister of Finance of Nigeria after being the second in command of the World Bank.

Yoo Myung-hee is the first woman to become a Trade Minister in South Korea.

Trade experts Maria Sokolova, Alisa  DiCaprio and Nicole Bivens Collinsons  conducted a study  on historical leadership of international organisations.

Only 33 women have held leadership positions in these organisations from a total figure of 291.

Africa looks forward to the selection of a competent WTO  director-general  from the continent as that will be reflective of  a progressive WTO that is not stuck with the past.

Furthermore,   as Africans, we will root for the two female candidates that understand Africa’s economic trajectory in the context of the AfCFTA.

The AfCFTA is set to be the largest economic integration since the inception of WTO 25 years ago. The focus of the AfCFTA is a rule based trading system and largely the AfCFTA has leaned on the WTO in its spirit and design.

The next WTO director general’s role will be to assist the AfCFTA to achieve its pivotal mandate of African economic development.

Successful and mutually beneficial WTO assistance  to the AfCFTA should  be reflective of the dynamics of economic integration at national, regional and continental levels.

The AfCFTA offers a unique opportunity to global trade partners to meet on equal terms  and enhance political and business partnerships  globally.

It will be in the interest of the WTO and the world to ensure a successful implementation of the AfCFTA.

A  WTO director-general from Africa will be best positioned  to rally all the members through  trade reforms that will once again promote multilateralism and a rules-based trading  system amongst a host of other key objectives.


Sitshengisiwe Ndlovu president of OWITZIMBABWE: MBA/UNCTAD: Trade and Gender Linkages/ IAC Dip/Cert: Trade in Services and SDGs: Robert Schuman Center of Advanced Studies/IDEPCert: Making the African Continental Free Trade Agreement Work. She writes in her personal capacity. For more on trade matters visit her Blog on website:


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