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Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Kenya’s Amina Mohamed vows to help reform WTO if given top seat

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Kenya’s candidate for top post at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has said she will push for reforms in the global trade refereeing body, even as she pledged to remain guided by the member states.

Appearing before the WTO’s highest decision body known as the General Council on Thursday, Ms Mohamed told the group of envoys that she will encourage member states pursue what she called “reform, recovery and renewal” of the global body charged with providing rules of trade.

“Reform is all the more urgent because an effective WTO is needed to help create the conditions for a sustainable recovery from the economic falling-out of the Covid-19 pandemic,” she told the audience in an introductory statement to the General Council in Geneva, Switzerland.

“This vital system is being tested as never before. The WTO was already in difficulties before Covid-19 struck. Its negotiating function had faltered, with only limited successes in the last twenty-five years,” she added.

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BINDING RULES OF TRADE

The WTO, with 164 member states, is not a UN organisation. But it created binding rules of trade.

In its more than two decades of existence though, it has failed to create uniformity on the needed changes. Some poor countries have haggled over the removal of certain subsidies while some richer countries have called for their continuation.

Ms Mohamed said she will promote “convergence” and encourage member states to use the rules of the organisation they created.

“The members themselves have been talking about reforming the organisation.  What they don’t agree is what reforms to be undertaken,” she later told a virtual press conference on Thursday evening.

“The membership needs to agree on what reforms need to take place, what priorities to attach to those reforms,” she added, saying she will help provide a platform for those discussions.

Ms Mohamed, who is kenya’s Sports Cabinet Secretary, was meeting with the General Council on the second day of the three-day session where all the eight candidates will address the WTO and identify themselves.

CANDIDATES FROM AFRICA

She is among three candidates from Africa. The others are Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Abdel-Hamid Mamdou of Egypt. 

Other contenders are former UK Trade Secretary Dr Liam Fox, Mr Jesús Seade Kuri of Mexico, Moldova’s Tudor Ulianovschi, Saudi Arabia’s former Economy Minister Mohammad Mazia al-Tualjri and Ms Yoo Myung-hee, the current Trade Minister of South Korea.

All candidates have been promising to reform the WTO.

Nigeria’s Dr Okonjo-Iweala termed the WTO system as “paralysed” while the Egyptian candidate argued for a system that reflects the 21st century trade.

Ms Mohamed said that that she believes the world should select a woman, or an African, not because it has never done so before, but because the candidate in question is competent.

“We are looking for a director-general who is competen…and who can support the members’ ambitions.

“I don’t think we should have a woman because we feel a woman should hold this post at this time. I think a woman that is chosen should be a woman who is capable.”

RETURNING TO CONTEST

Ms Mohamed is returning to contest at the WTO, an organisation she worked for before and served as Kenya’s Ambassador to its headquarters in Geneva.

Africa, which has never led the organisation, was tipped to be the best placed continent. But fronting three candidates has been seen as its weakness.

“Africa has never led the WTO since it started in 1994 so this is a very good chance for the continent to pitch for a chance to lead the organisation,” said trade policy expert Peter Mwencha, who also serves as secretary-general and CEO of the International Relations Society of Kenya.

“On the face of it, Amina has the right credentials to become the DG of the WTO given her past experience within the WTO and other UN agencies,” Dr Mwencha added.

But Dr Mwencha said Kenya’s unilateral decision to negotiate a bilateral trade agreement with the US could present it as breaking from the African ranks.

NOT AGAINST AFRICA

But Ms Mohamed said the deal that Nairobi is negotiating with Washington is not against Africa and that it could be used as an example in future trade talks.

“It is one of very many FTAs…. It is a step that was needed to be taken by my country,” she said.

“It is a negotiation that is just beginning…it is going to be a model for the region. It should be something that should be celebrated.”

As to whether various African candidates gave an impression of disunity, Ms Mohamed argued it in fact showed Africa takes WTO seriously.

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