WTO Needs Revamp to Remain Relevant, Kenya’s Mohamed Says

The World Trade Organization needs a face-lift to make it relevant in the 21st century, said Kenya’s Amina Mohamed, one of nine candidates to replace Pascal Lamy as WTO director general when his term expires in August.

“My vision involves the need to upgrade and modernize the WTO agenda,” Mohamed said in a telephone interview today from Nairobi. “There is a need to protect it from the onslaught of protectionist measures that have and may be introduced and to take stock of what has happened with” the Doha Round of talks that seeks to cut farm aid and crack open markets.

Mohamed, deputy head of the United Nations Environment Programme and a former ambassador to the WTO, is up against candidates from Brazil, Ghana, Costa Rica, Indonesia, Jordan, South Korea, Mexico and New Zealand. The Geneva-based trade arbiter has had only one head from a developing country since it was created in 1995 and no women have ever vied for the job. Mohamed, 51, is one of three women seeking to succeed Lamy.

The Doha Round of talks, which began in 2001, has struggled to make headway as WTO members bicker over agriculture subsidies and industrial tariffs. Global commerce has suffered amid the European debt crisis. In September, the WTO cut its forecast for 2012 and 2013 trade growth to 2.5 percent and 4.5 percent, respectively.

“We need to take stock to see what can be achieved,” Mohamed said. Some parts of the Doha Round “may have been overtaken by everything else and need to be looked at afresh. Some parts may be irrelevant. The future of the Doha Round needs to be discussed with the membership.”

‘Open for Business’

Selecting a head from a developing nation would signal that the WTO “is open for business for anybody from anywhere in the world,” Mohamed said. Being a woman is an “added value” that would inspire other women to seek top posts, she said.

Mohamed headed several of the WTO’s most important committees, including its Dispute Settlement Body and the Trade Policy Review Body. The other African candidate, Ghanaian Trade Minister Alan Kyerematen, has the African Union’s endorsement.

She and the other eight candidates will present themselves to WTO members at a three-day meeting of the General Council that begins on Jan. 29, after which the process of whittling down the list and picking Lamy’s successor will begin.

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