WELLINGTON/GENEVA (Reuters) - The field of candidates to succeed Pascal Lamy as head of the World Trade Organization burst open on Friday, as New Zealand, Mexico, Jordan and Kenya threw names into the ring with 10 days left for nominations.
Whoever wins, faces the challenge of being the face of an institution that has been stuck for years in stalled global trade negotiations, with little real power to force a deal beyond cajoling, encouraging and occasionally blaming members.
Kenya’s Amina Mohamed, deputy head of the United Nations Environment Programme, became the third woman and second African contender, while Jordan nominated former minister of trade and industry Ahmad Hindawi, the first Middle Eastern nominee so far.
Mexico put forward its former trade minister Herminio Blanco, who negotiated the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Earlier on Friday New Zealand nominated its trade minister Tim Groser, who joins Ghana’s Alan Kyerematen, Costa Rica’s Anabel Gonzalez and Indonesia’s Mari Pangestu in the race to take over after Lamy’s second term expires on August 31.
Many trade diplomats think the job should go to an African, Latin American or Caribbean candidate, since all but one head of the 17-year-old WTO has been from developed countries. The exception was Thailand’s Supachai Panitchpakdi.
As well as seeking trade agreements, the body is also the global trade policeman, facing a surge of litigation as members fight for a share of a pie that is not quite shrinking, but expected to grow by a mere 2.5 percent this year.
The boom in disputes is forcing the WTO to reallocate staff, according to diplomats and documents at the global trade body in Geneva that in August had 157 members.
Mohamed, a fluent Russian speaker, is the only one who is not a current or former trade minister, but she was ambassador to the WTO from 2000 to 2006 and chaired several of the most important committees, including its dispute settlement body in 2004.
Her nomination may splinter African support and damage the chances of Kyerematen, who was anointed as the African Union’s approved candidate earlier this year.
If both Africans make it through to later stages of the race, when least-favoured candidates are gradually ejected, an African split could play into the hands of another regional bloc. When Lamy got the job eight years ago, Brazil was widely blamed for ruining the chances of Uruguay’s nominee.
Groser also comes with inconvenient baggage, since New Zealand is the only one of the seven countries to have held the job before, and some diplomats think that having another director general from New Zealand - developed, rich and agricultural - would be unbalanced or unfair.
Lamy has said his successor, chosen by consensus, should be picked on the basis of competence alone.
Groser, 62, was New Zealand’s ambassador to the WTO between 2002-2005, and chaired the organisation’s rules and agricultural negotiating groups. He had been widely tipped as a candidate.
Hindawi, 47, who was Jordanian trade minister in 2004-2005, is perhaps the candidate with the slightest connection to the WTO and the most involvement in the private sector.
With a degree in aeronautical engineering from Purdue University in the United States and a PhD from Birmingham University in Britain, he runs a management consultancy firm, Hindawi Excellence Group, from Dubai.
Blanco, who holds a PhD in economics from the University of Chicago, is a member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party of new Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and former President Ernesto Zedillo, who some trade diplomats in Geneva had said would have made an excellent candidate to succeed Lamy.
As a minister Blanco was lauded abroad for his free trade agreements but came under heavy criticism in domestic politics, like the then finance minister Angel Gurria, who now heads the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
All the candidates will present their “vision for the WTO” to the global trade body’s membership on January 29, part of a three month campaigning period and a selection process that will gradually whittle down the field to a winner by May 31.
Editing by Michael Perry and Alison Williams