As the World Trade Organisation started to look for a new head, it was also struggling to remain relevant after repeated failures to revive global trade liberalisation talks.
Pascal Lamy, who steps down as director general of the WTO at the end of August, vowed in 2005 to make liberalisation his “first, second and third priority”, but by 2011 was finally forced to declare that talks on the issue were at an “impasse”.
The new chief will have to decide how to revive the so-called Doha talks, launched in that city in 2001, and which were intended to further liberalise trade in ways that would particularly help developing countries.
With Doha stalled, regional and bilateral trade deals have flourished, which could threaten to sideline the WTO.
“The big question is this: does the WTO retain its centrality in the trading system? It’s down to the next WTO head,” said Simon Evenett, professor of international trade at St Gallen University in Switzerland.
Lamy himself said recently that the major challenges for the new holder of the top job will be strengthening world trade, further opening trade and restricting protectionist tendencies.
The weak global economy makes the job of the next WTO head even more difficult.
World trade growth dropped from 13.8 percent in 2010 to 5.0 percent in 2011 and an estimated 3.7 percent last year. It is forecast to rise just 5.6 percent this year.
There are nine candidates being interviewed by the WTO – from Latin America – Brazil, Costa Rica and Mexico; Africa – Ghana and Kenya; the Middle East – Jordan – and the Asia-Pacific region – Indonesia, New Zealand, and South Korea. Three are women.
The winner will be expected to untie the Doha Gordian Knot – to give developing countries a fairer deal on agriculture and better access to rich markets for their exports and services.
The new director general will be named by the end of May.