Senior Fellow Kimberly Ann Elliott's recent blog post and Vice President Lawrence MacDonald's interviews of WTO candidates are featured in a Washington Post piece on the positions of the potential new leaders of the WTO and their likelihood of selection.
But the organization is still very powerful. Few international organizations can match its ability to quash laws passed by member states. For example, when the Bush administration imposed tariffs on most imported steel in 2002, the WTO ruled that the measures violated international trade law and that the E.U. and Japan had the right to retaliate with their own tariffs. The E.U. prepared tariffs specially assigned to hurt industries in U.S. swing states (e.g., by placing tariffs on imports of Florida citrus). The United States backed down and withdrew the tariffs. It’s quite unusual for multilateral institutions to have the ability to veto domestic policy like that.
Now the WTO faces a transition period, as Pascal Lamy, the French politician who has led the organization for the past eight years, is departing at the end of August. Past leaders of the WTO and of its predecessor organization, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), have been a pretty monochromatic bunch, with all but one of their directors-general coming from Europe or New Zealand. No women have ever led the organization, either. But both of those patterns could change depending on who the WTO’s General Council selects to succeed Lamy.
Nine candidates have been nominated by host countries. The Center for Global Development’s Kimberly Ann Elliott has a helpful explainer of where the process goes from here. First, members of the General Council — which consists of all member countries, represented either in-person in Geneva by permanent representatives to the WTO or remotely by central governments — will each submit their four favorite candidates (in no particular order) to the chairs of the General Council (currently Shahid Bashir of Pakistan), the Dispute Settlement Body (currently Jonathan Fried of Canada) and the Trade Policy Review Body (currently Joakim Reiter of Sweden), the latter of which are important subsidiary committees of the WTO.
That process lasts from Wednesday through next Tuesday, at which point the four candidates with the least support will be asked to withdraw. Second, the process is repeated, but with members stating only two preferred candidates each. The three candidates garnering the least support will then withdraw, leaving two finalists. A final vote will then take place, with the winner becoming director-general. As Elliott notes, the WTO likes to operate on consensus, so a really hard-fought battle at the end is unlikely.
So who do the members have to choose from? Here are the nine candidates, as well as the features that might endear WTO members to them, as well as features that might push them away. I also threw in their average odds (correcting for overround) on Ladbrokes and Paddy Power, two betting sites from Britain and Ireland, respectively, that offer betting on the WTO race. Take these with a grain of salt (they didn’t have Lamy as the favorite last time around), but they’re a good estimate of the conventional wisdom.