Four Questions for Bob Zoellick

June 01, 2007
President Bush's nomination of Robert Zoellick to be the next president of the World Bank has been mostly well-received in U.S. policy circles and by some leading rich and developing countries. In the U.S., expressions of support appeared on the editorial pages of The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal . Germany, which campaigned for the ouster of Paul Wolfowitz, was quick to signal support. Even Brazil, which only days before had joined with Australia and South Africa in calling for reform of the selection process, indicated that while it still seeks such reforms it would support Zoellick's nomination -- despite harsh words when he was Washington's point person in trade disputes with Brasilia.Supporters point to Zoellick's strong international experience, including as the U.S. Trade Representative and Deputy Secretary of State. They contrast his pragmatic approach and strong track record in reaching negotiated solutions with the rigid ideological stance that was part of Wolfowitz's undoing.The World Bank's board, which is widely expected to approve Zoellick's nomination, has taken a due process approach. On the day that President Bush announced the nomination, the following brief statement appeared on the Bank's website:
The World Bank's Board of Executive Directors acknowledges the nomination today by the Executive Director of the United States of Mr. Robert Zoellick as World Bank President.The Board of 24 directors representing 185 member countries looks forward to holding discussions with Mr. Zoellick as part of the selection process.The Board has set a deadline of June 15 to receive nominations for the position of President of the World Bank Group. After that date, Board meetings will be held to consider all nominations.The Executive Directors expect to complete the process for the selection of the President by June 30, 2007.
So, what will the board ask during these discussions? What will the international community and the journalists who interview him ask? It's reasonable to expect that questions will go beyond his work experience and skills, much of which can be gleaned from his bio on Wikipedia. (As for recommendations, development community perceptions of his qualifications for the job can be seen on the CGD survey). More interesting questions concern his views and intentions concerning complex and sometimes contentious development policy issues. As with any job interview, the time to ask tough questions is BEFORE the contract is signed. Here are four questions that the Bank shareholders (the countries of the world), the board, staff and other members of the the international development community will want to hear answered before the board votes to accept Washington's single nominee:Question 1 "What are your views on rich country agricultural subsidies and trade related intellectual property rights (TRIPS) as they relate to pharmaceuticals and poor people's access to life-saving medicines?"Background: The World Bank has rightly argued that trade barriers hurt poor people in developing countries and has therefore pushed for trade liberalization in both rich and poor countries. As U.S. Trade Representative, Zoellick made important contributions to expanded trade, helping to launch the Doha Development Round of trade talks. But it was also part of his job to defend U.S. cotton subsidies ruled illegal by the World Trade Organization (See, for example, the September 2004 U.S. government press release USTR Zoellick Vows Appeal on WTO Ruling Against Cotton Subsidies.) His role in the controversy over TRIPS is complex and evolved over time. James Love of the Consumer Project on Technology, an NGO, described the evolution in an analysis published Thursday (Bob Zoellick and Medicine Patents in Poor Countries) as "Good Bob" followed by "Bad Bob."Of course, where you stand on such issues depends on where you sit. Love gives Zoellick the benefit of the doubt, concluding: "I hope we see Good Bob, and not Bad Bob."Question 2: "What are your views on the Bank's role in providing reproductive health services to poor women in developing countries? Do you endorse current staff efforts to develop and implement a new Population Strategy for the Bank and replace lost expertise in this area?"Background: The Bank has long recognized high fertility as a serious health challenge, especially for women and their children, and has supported countries in their efforts to provide family planning services to adults who seek them. Under Wolfowitz, this policy came under fire. According to the Los Angeles Times a draft revision of the Bank's long-term "Strategy for Health, Nutrition and Population Results" submitted to the board "contained only one reference to family planning, and that was to a past project." The board rejected the draft and Wolfowitz, already under siege for other reasons, denied that he intended any shift in bank policy. But he did not fire managing director Juan José Daboub, a top Wolfowitz appointee who had overseen the excising of references to family planning. Zoellick seems not to have expressed views on reproductive health. Now would be a great time to find out what he thinks.Question 3: "What are your views on the Bank's role in responding to global warming? Do you agree with established Bank policy on global warming and the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)?"Background: Climate scientists warn that time is running out for averting a global catastrophe of drought, floods, collapsing agricultural production in tropical countries, bigger tropical storms, and rising sea levels--disasters that would hurt poor people in developing countries first and worst, undoing generations of development progress. For all its flaws, the Bank is the only global institution with the financial heft and technical capacity to start now helping developing countries to cope with the impacts (with sea walls, drought and flood mitigation, new cropping techniques and seeds, and resettlement on higher land), and to cut emissions (with pollution charges, reformed energy pricing, stronger conservation incentives, and massive investment in deploying existing low and zero carbon energy solutions).None of this happened under Paul Wolfowitz. Instead, Daboub pressured the Bank's chief scientist, Bob Watson, to remove references to climate change from a key Bank strategy document. According to the Financial Times:
Mr Daboub, who oversees the sustainable development division of the bank, tried to take out some references to climate change completely and, in other cases, replaced it with the phrases "climate risk" and "climate variability", which convey greater uncertainty over the human impact on climate.Mr Watson said: "My inference was that the words 'climate change' to him implied human-induced climate change and he still thought it was a theory and was not proved yet."[Mr. Watson] said that went completely against established bank policy.
Of course, it also goes against the consensus of the international scientific community, as expressed this year in two massive IPCC reports.And what are Zoellick's views on climate? One possible hint can be seen in his role, while serving as Deputy Secretary of State, in rolling out the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, a six-nation, non-binding pact that was widely criticized as a public relations ploy meant to undercut the Kyoto climate treaty. If Zoellick becomes the new president of the World Bank, can we expect vigorous leadership to mobilize the Bank's considerable resources to respond to the global challenge of climate change? Now's the time to ask him.Question 4: "If you are confirmed in this position, will you initiate a process to reform the selection process for your successor? Related to this, do you agree with the recommendations of the 2001 World Bank Working Group to Review the Process for the Selection of the President?"Background: If anyone seriously interested in development doubted that the current selection system is deeply flawed, the Wolfowitz debacle will have put those doubts to rest. The upsurge in the calls for reform, including a letter signed by more than 500 development professionals and the CGD survey, which attracted nearly 700 respondents, show the widespread desire for change.A wish to quickly restore normalcy at the Bank, and the strength of Zoellick's qualifications for the job, likely underpin the broad support that his nomination has received. But the potential conflicts between national and international goals that arise when a single country proposes a single candidates for rubber-stamp approval by the board of the world's largest development institution have not vanished--as shown by the three questions above.Bob Zoellick, with his proven track record in negotiating international agreements, may be just the person to broker an agreement on a reformed selection process that would be acceptable to the U.S., to Europe and other rich countries, and to the developing countries eager for a greater voice in who runs the bank. Is he willing to try? Now is the time to ask.What do you think of these questions? And what other questions would you like to ask?


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.