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World Trade Organization (WTO)

Kenya’s candidate for the top post at the World Trade Organization (WTO) has pledged to push for reforms in the global trade governing body and said she should be selected not because of her gender or origin, but competence.

Amina Mohamed, one of two female Africans competing for the job and who has served as Kenya’s foreign affairs and international trade minister, urged to update the WTO rulebook “so that it’s fit for purpose and in sync with the global developments, global aspirations and respond properly to global challenges.”

The 58-year-old has previously chaired WTO’s highest decision-making bodies, including the Ministerial Conference in Nairobi, the General Council, the Dispute Settlement Body, and the Trade Policy Review Body.

Like other candidates, fixing the WTO’s broken dispute settlement mechanism would rank high on Mohamed’s to-do list. “The second thing I would like to do is to make sure that the dispute settlement system is back to where it was before, that it has the two-stage process, and that it has both the panels and the Appellate Body,” she told Xinhua in a recent interview.

The United States has frozen the Appellate Body by blocking the appointment of new judges, complaining that it has overreached its mandate. The European Union and other WTO members earlier this year set up a temporary arbitration system that allows them to overcome the current paralysis and solve trade disputes among themselves.

Talking about two major members of the WTO, Mohamed said: “We need the U.S. and China in the system. They’re big contributors. They have used and benefited from the system for a very long time. And of course, they have more responsibility to the system than the much smaller countries.”

Outgoing WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo announced in May that he would step down on Aug. 31. If Mohamed wins, she would be the first woman and African leading the 164-member organization headquartered in Geneva.
There are a total of eight contenders running for the top job.

Three candidates are from Africa, including Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, also a woman, and Egypt’s Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh.

But Mohamed stressed that it’s the qualification rather than the gender or origin which makes the difference. “I should be selected because of the knowledge and the reform agenda that I have for the organization,” she told Xinhua. “Being a woman would be an additional boost, showing what contribution women can actually make.”

“But first and foremost it has to be about competence, about experience, about knowledge, and it has to be about having a proven track record, whether you are a man or a woman.”

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