Indonesia has entered the race for the leadership of the World Trade Organization (WTO), nominating former trade minister Mari Elka Pangestu to succeed Pascal Lamy when he steps down in August 2013, bringing a second woman and a third continent into the contest.
Mari is the third candidate to be nominated in as many days, following Ghana’s Alan Kyerematen and Costa Rica’s Anabel Gonzalez. All five directors general in the WTO’s 17-year history have been male,
Her nomination also comes on the heels of Indonesia’s successful bid to host the WTO’s next biennial ministerial conference, which is set to take place in Bali in December 2013.
Mari, currently Indonesia’s tourism and creative economy minister, was a respected figure in the WTO during her seven-year stint as trade minister because of her strong stance on free trade.
However, she was ousted from the position last year following a string of disagreements with colleagues at the Industry Ministry, the Agriculture Ministry and the Finance Ministry, who tried to prioritize domestic interests over free trade agreements.
Analysts agreed, saying that her trade policies had been way too open and liberal, with the 56-year-old economist was unsuccessful in plugging the influx of imported goods from Indonesia’s trading partners, especially China, eventually leading to her removal.
If Mari is named as the WTO’s new top official, she will have responsibility for policing trade ministers in the organization’s member countries, including Gita Wirjawan, her successor in the Trade Ministry who, since taking over Mari’s job in October 2011, has been building various forms of trade barrier to shield Indonesia from an influx of imported goods, worrying Indonesia’s trading partners.
Gita has been the subject of criticism from Turkey, Australia and Sri Lanka over the government’s decision to slap a 20 percent emergency import tariff on wheat flour, although the decision was supported by the local milling industry.
“We hope the interests of Indonesia, as well as other emerging economies and less developed countries, will be placed as the top priority in the spirit of balancing [our footing] with advanced economies,” Gita told The Jakarta Post on Thursday when asked for comments regarding Mari’s nomination.
The new leader of the WTO will face the challenge of being the public face of an institution that has been stuck in the midst of stalled negotiations for years, with little real power to force deals beyond cajoling, encouraging and occasionally blaming members.
The incumbent, Lamy, has referred to himself as a “midwife” who can only help a deal emerge but cannot order agreements or reforms in the trading system, since the WTO is owned by its members, Reuters reported.
The one-month nomination period for candidates will end on Dec. 31. The candidates will be required to formally take part in a General Council meeting on Jan. 29 attended by WTO members.
Under the procedures of the world trade governing body, the General Council chair will later review candidates and consult with WTO members. The council is scheduled to announce the new
director general before May 31.
If elected, Mari would be the second Indonesian woman to hold a top post in a respected international organization, after former finance minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati was named as the World Bank’s managing director in 2010.
Last year, Indonesia nominated veteran scientist Indroyono Soesilo to become the head of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), but he failed after collecting only 12 out of 180 possible votes.