Time for forceful leader to fix WTO, not a "butler," Mexico's pick says
By Frank Jack Daniel
MEXICO CITY, Aug 17 (Reuters) - The World Trade Organization needs a strong personality at its helm to restart long-delayed negotiations urgently and drag the rule book for global commerce into the 21st century, Mexico's pick to lead the body said.
Jesus Seade said he would apply decades of experience as a trade negotiator to attack years-old deadlocks on issues such as electronic trade and the depletion of oceans by over-fishing if he is chosen as director general of the WTO.
"I think people agree that we need a forceful personality" to address bottlenecks, Seade told Reuters in an interview last week in which he outlined his ideas to repair the WTO's dispute resolution body, which has been stymied by the United States.
Seade said that at the same time, he would be respectful of the trade group's nature as a member-driven organization.
However, he said he would push countries to resolve differences, in contrast to the restraint that at an extreme he said risked reducing the director general to "dignified butler, making sure meeting rooms are available."
The group will be left leaderless on Aug. 31, after current Director General Roberto Acevedo of Brazil announced he would step down a year early. In a sign of the WTO's impasse, members have failed to agree on an interim replacement.
The body aims to choose a new head by November.
Seade, currently Mexico's deputy foreign minister for North America, is among eight candidates who will be eliminated in batches in coming weeks, starting with those unlikely to win consensus from 164 members.
The WTO is in perhaps the worst crisis of its 25-year existence, pummeled by the Trump administration's mistrust of multilateral bodies, friction between the United States and China and the collapse of its dispute resolution system.
Seade, a founder WTO deputy director general who has also worked at the International Monetary Fund, said the crisis was so severe that it presents an opportunity to jolt the organization into action.
"There are favorable winds which come from the awareness among countries that we are perilously close to a situation that will create danger for everyone," he said.
Seade said a quick decision on the leadership would help wrap up negotiations on fisheries and other matters with a view to launching new talks next year on issues such as agriculture and give time to organize a long-delayed ministerial conference in 2021.
To restore U.S. faith in the dispute resolution body that Washington accuses of overreach, he said members could consider a stronger supervisory mechanism to make sure the powerful appellate body did not stray beyond its mandate.
Seade must overcome a view in some quarters that another Latin American should not be the WTO chief straight after Acevedo, and that it is time for an African leader.
Africa has put forward three candidates, including two women, Amina Mohamed of Kenya and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria. Mohamed has supported reform and expressed sympathy with U.S. criticism of the appellate body.
The WTO has never been led by a woman or an African.
Seade described himself as an "Africanist" who had focused much of his career at the WTO, IMF and World Bank on the region, including debt relief.
"I would be a director general who is very knowledgeable to Africa, very loyal and committed to Africa," he said.
However, Seade said members should prioritize trade credentials over other considerations.
"The WTO is in really dire straits, a difficult situation; you need the best, most suitable person to dig it out," he said.
"We are not in a situation where we can have any kind of learning curve." (Reporting by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Dan Grebler)
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