Headlines

Indonesia loses out on
filling top job

Mari Elka Pangestu: (JP/Nurhayati)
Mari Elka Pangestu: (JP/Nurhayati)

Indonesia has failed to advance to the final round in the race for the top post at the World Trade Organization (WTO) as its candidate, former trade minister Mari Elka Pangestu, did not win the much-needed support from the organization’s 159 members.

The battle was now left to two Latin American candidates, Roberto Azevedo, Brazilian ambassador to the WTO, and Herminio Blanco, a veteran trade negotiator who led Mexico in the talks on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Reuters reported.

Whichever of the two is elected, a representative from a Latin American country will lead the world trade governing body for the first time, succeeding current director general Pascal Lamy, a Frenchman and a former European Union (EU) trade chief who held the post for two four-year terms.

Mari, the only woman left in the second selection round, together with the other remaining candidates — New Zealand’s Tim Groser and South Korea’s Taeho Bark — were requested to withdraw from the process due to insufficient votes from the entire WTO membership, Reuters reported.

“I withdraw from this candidacy with great humility. I feel honored to have participated in this process and to have represented Indonesia’s commitment as an emerging nation to contribute to global governance for the benefit of all nations,” she said in a statement on Friday.

Before the result came in, rumors were circulating in Geneva that BRICs countries, namely Brazil, Russia, India and China, were throwing their weight behind Azevedo. There was also speculation that the decisions made after the first round of selection were politically motivated.

A source at the Trade Ministry, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the second-round result was largely determined by regional sentiments, which had strengthened since the first round, and this was why Indonesia’s candidate lost in the members’ consensus-based vote.

Earlier, some analysts had been upbeat about Mari’s proven track record in the international trade arena, perceiving her to be a strong challenger to Azevedo, who is a favorite among diplomatic circles.

“Since the race began, sentiments among members have polarized to Africa and Latin America,” the source said, adding that votes then shifted to Latin America as their candidates were seen as having greater capabilities.

Two African candidates from Kenya and Ghana failed to progress beyond the first round, along with candidates from Costa Rica and Jordan. The WTO has in the past had leaders from the Asia-Pacific region: Thailand’s Supachai Panitchpakdi, and New Zealand’s Mike Moore, amid a dominance of European leaders.

The winner, namely the candidate who gains the highest number of votes, will be announced at the end of May, and will assume his new position in September.

Gary Hufbauer, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Peterson Institute of International Economics, said the greatest challenges facing the new WTO leader would be in reviving its role as a serious negotiating forum on trade and investment and facilitating a global trade deal.

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