Several news stories marked the start of the WTO's two month consultation process, meant to lead to a consensus among member nations on the choice of a new Director-General.
- point to the failure of the last selection process in 1998-1999 (The WTO failed to reach a consensus on a candidate, the process was controverial and caused a lot of hard feelings, and a preoccupation with it prevented adequate preparation for the Seattle Ministers' meetings later in the year, contributing to the failure to lauch a new trade round there.),
- give some details about this year's selection process,
- talk about the sources of each candidate's support,
- and notice the lack of a frontrunner.
Allen Beattie reports, in the Financial Times that "Selection of new world trade chief too close to call".
Beattie briefly describes the process,
"Rather than a formal election, the selection process, which is due to finish by the end of May, involves repeated consultations among WTO members to try to reach a consensus. In a first stage, the chair of the WTO's general council, Kenyan ambassador Amina Mohamed, will consult members of the Geneva-based trade body over the next couple of weeks, after which at least one of the candidates is likely to drop out..."
and then quotes John Weekes, a former Canadian ambassador to the WTO, and the Chair of the General Council at the start of the last selection process, on possible process dynamics:
�Quite a few countries have been hanging back and will only reveal their preference to the general council chair at this stage,� said John Weekes, a former Canadian WTO ambassador who is now senior policy adviser at the international law firm Sidley Austin Brown & Wood in Geneva. �There may well be some who support one candidate in one round of selection and another in the next one.� "
Tom Wright reports in the International Herald Tribune, that "For WTO members, it's 'confession' time".
"Countries are saying little for now, but most are expected to broadly back candidates from their own regions in the first round...
As candidates drop out, things could get more complex, said Sergio Marchi, a former Canadian trade minister and chairman of the WTO General Council in 2002. "Some candidates may be short of votes today, but on a subsequent ballot be more acceptable," he said...
Next week, the ambassadors are supposed to winnow out one candidate, who should in theory gracefully bow out, and this process is meant to continue until a winner emerges before May 31.
In case no consensus is reached by then, the organization has put in place a voting system to ensure that there is no repeat of last time. But it has not yet been decided how to weight the voting. Industrialized countries are uncomfortable about a one-ballot-per-member system, in which they would be outnumbered by developing countries, Marchi said."
Member countries could have voted last time, it was discussed.
During the consultations, Amina Mohamed will likely be polling delegations on their first and second choices. Keep an eye on the second choices. As candidates drop out, their supporters have to go somewhere. In 1999, Mike Moore of New Zealand was in last place in mid-January, but was one of the two finishers in July.
Chakravarthi Raghavan describes the January results ("Trade: Another term for Ruggiero?" ):
"The new head count made public in press briefings by the WTO, (and the detailed statement of Rossier that was made available to the members, but withheld from the media, unlike the earlier two reports by Celso Lafer and Rossier Celso Lafer and Rossier conducted the consultations - Ben) brought out:
* the Thai Deputy Prime Minister, Supachai leading with 40 first preferences, followed by 23 for Abouyoub of Morocco, 15 for MacLaren of Canada and 13 for Mike Moore of New Zealand;
* on basis of second preferences, Moore edged forward to the top of the list with 26 votes, Supachai with 19, Abouyoub with eight and Maclaren with five.
* while the great majority were willing to join the consensus whatever the final choice, a "not negligible number" said they would not be in a position to join automatically in a consensus if it formed around a candidate other than those for whom they have indicated a first or second preference.
Of the 133 members, 28 (12 with offices in Geneva, and others outside) did not respond to contacts by Rossier."
At Reuters India, Robert Evans ("Haunted WTO aims to name new leader by end of May" ) briefly describes the process:
"...three envoys will begin consulting the 148 WTO member countries on which of four candidates they would prefer as the next director general.
The leader of the team, Kenya's ambassador Amina Mohamed who chairs the WTO's ruling General Council, told delegations on Thursday that the three aim to find a consensus around one figure in the hope of having him approved by the end of May..."
and speculates about a Lamy for Wolfowitz deal:
"The United States -- which like all other WTO members could block any candidate by refusing consensus -- has yet to indicate which of the four it will support.
This has led to speculation in some capitals -- but muted in Geneva where the changing dynamics of the 10-year-old WTO are better understood -- that Washington and Brussels may have done a deal involving the WTO and the World Bank.
The speculation intensified on Wednesday when the EU gave the green light for controversial U.S. nominee Paul Wolfowitz to take over as head of the World Bank, sparking suggestions that Lamy would now get U.S. support for the WTO.
But diplomats in Geneva said that even if the United States did back the Frenchman, a socialist committed to a liberalised global trading system, that was far from meaning he was certain to get the job.
Some envoys suggest that any such railroading by the two top trading powers would lead developing countries, now better organised to promote their own interests than some years ago, to dig in their heels and insist on one of their candidates."