On Jan. 29 at the World Trade Organization’s headquarters in Geneva, the nine candidates who are in the running to replace the outgoing Pascal Lamy as the next WTO director-general will present themselves in a formal, public meeting of the General Council. Then they will mostly get on the road, making their cases to the powers-that-be in various world capitals. After several months of gradually winnowing out the field in discrete private consultations with interested officials from the WTO’s 157 member countries, the General Council will pick the “consensus” winner by May 31. The winner will take office on Aug. 31, and then have three months to prepare for the WTO’s next ministerial meetings, to be held the first week of December in Bali.

 On Monday, I reported why veteran WTO watchers consider this election to be especially important for the venerable multilateral institution’s future, citing the prescient warning from economist Jagdish Bhagwati that the WTO is now in real “danger.” And I reported on the qualifications of three of the nine candidates who come from the Asia-Pacific: Tim Groser of New Zealand, Indonesia’s Mari Pangestu; and Taeho Bark, South Korea’s candidate. Today, the rest of the field.

 Three come from Latin America, two from Africa, and one from the Middle East. Altogether, it’s a strong field — although it is not clear which of the nine would exercise truly strong leadership. Nor is it clear that the top political leaders in major world capitals really are focused on the importance of selecting such a leader. And as outgoing Director-General Lamy has learned, without that necessary backing, no WTO head, no matter how dedicated and energized, can stop the institutional drift.

 We left the story off with South Korea’s candidate, Taeho Bark, a man whose career has risen in tandem with his country’s admirable economic growth. As his country’s trade minister, Bark has taken heat from both Korea’s domestic automakers and the Detroit auto lobby — each of which has accused Minister Bark of not doing enough to advance their own agendas. Bark explained that such political fire comes with the territory, especially when emotions run high in the international trade arena (which is to say, most of the time).

Speaking of an admirable quality of learning to handle the inevitable political heat that is part- and parcel of international trade negotiations, consider Anabel Gonzalez. She’s Costa Rica’s candidate to lead the WTO.

Gonzalez has long been a rising star in her country’s trade ministry. She graduated with highest honors from the University of Costa Rica’s law school, and earned her masters in law in 1988 from Georgetown University Law Center, in Washington, D.C.

From 1991 to 1997 Gonzalez was director general for international trade negotiations in Costa Rica’s foreign-trade ministry. In that capacity, she was her country’s chief negotiator in the FTAA — the acronym for the Free Trade Area of the Americas — process. She was also the coordinator of Costa Rica’s positions in the Gatt’s Uruguay Round. During that period, Gonzalez handled politically charged negotiations with the European Union and the United States over banana-import issues. She was also involved in bringing Costa Rica’s successful challenge in the WTO’s dispute settlement process to the protectionist U.S. restrictions on Costa Rican underwear.

Gonzalez was special ambassador for U.S. trade affairs from 2002 to 2004, during which time she was Costa Rica’s lead negotiator for the DR-CAFTA preferential trade deal. Before that, she was chief negotiator for her country’s preferential trade accords with Canada, Chile, the Dominican Republic and Panama. President Laura Chinchilla tapped her as trade minister in 2010.

Gonzalez’ memorable performance during the stormy 1999 WTO ministerial meetings in Seattle is worth noting. That ministerial, President Bill Clinton anticipated, would launch a new multilateral trade liberalizing round, a Seattle Round. It didn’t happen — thanks to the same Clinton, who made an uncharacteristic political blunder and precisely the wrong time.

The Seattle ministerial is mostly remembered for the emergence of the vociferous band of anti-globalist protestors who trashed the streets, egging on the collapse of the ministerial meetings. But inside the closed-door meetings, the atmosphere was even more poisonous. Representatives from the WTO’s poorer member countries were outraged when they read on the first day of the ministerial what Clinton had said in an interview with a Seattle newspaper reporter. The American president basically sank the launch of the “Seattle Round” by suggesting that economic sanctions might be imposed upon countries that failed to meet the protectionist AFL-CIO’s notion of “fair trade.”

And when emotions were running the highest in Seattle, Gonzalez happened to chair the trade and labor group’s meetings. Those meetings were perhaps as stormy as it ever gets in the international trade arena. By all accounts, Gonzalez handled herself with aplomb — even courageously, at perhaps the moment when the WTO’s current institutional drift began. There would be no Seattle Round. The Doha Round, launched two years later, is still stuck on the same tensions between the wealthy developed WTO member countries, and the (sometimes rightly) resentful poorer ones. But now, if the test for the next WTO leader is a demonstrated ability to demonstrate leadership under fire, Gonzalez long ago passed it.

Gonzalez is also well connected to leading international trade circles, serving for instance as chair of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Trade. But she does have some detractors — although nobody has spoken out for public attribution — stemming from what was apparently a turbulent tenure as director of the WTO’ agriculture and commodities division from Feb. 2006 – Jan. 2009. Gonzalez recalls that “the time I spent at the Ag Division was a highly charged time, particularly the year 2008, as it was a moment of very intense negotiations in the context of Doha — we were probably as close as ever to have reached agreement.” With the stakes so high, adds: “I saw a lot of shouting” by just about everyone. But “all this is water under the bridge, as it should be in the context of professional relations in my view.”

At least Brazil’s candidate, Roberto Azevedo, doesn’t have to worry about personal jealousies. Azevedo, who is Brazil’s ambassador to the WTO, could be the most well-liked trade diplomat in Geneva, a city where charm is an especially valuable political currency. But Azevedo’s “problem” could be a bigger one: regional jealousies. And those might not be dismissed so lightly.

The reference is to the political dynamics that always seem to be in play when Brazil and Mexico have competing interests in Latin America. Each of these two countries, it often seems, love nothing better than to assert its own regional influence by knocking the other. And Mexico’s candidate to head the WTO, Herminio Blanco, is a heavyweight.

Blanco’s heavyweight credentials begin with the Ph.D. in Economics he earned at the University of Chicago in 1978. His career quickly took off that year: he became senior advisor to Mexico’s finance minister. Blanco taught economics at Rice University, in Houston, Texas, from 1980 – 1985; from 1985 – 1988 he was a member of the Council of Economic Advisors, which advised President Miguel de la Madrid, an economic reformer.

As vice-minister for international trade negotiations in 1993 and 1994, Blanco was Mexico’s chief trade negotiator, leading his country into the successful completion of the Gatt’s Uruguay Round in 1994. He then went on to become minister for trade and industry, serving until 2000. Notably, Blanco lead the Mexican government’s lobbying to approve the Nafta trade deal with Canada and the United States — no small political accomplishment, and a valuable education in what universities call “political economy.”

In the last decade, Blanco’s been active in the private sector: member of the boards of CYDSA, the Mexican chemical manufacturer, and of the country’s leading bank, BANORTE; and also of the pro-trade Cordell Hull Institute. In 2002 Blanco founded and became chairman of the board of Soluciones Estrategicas, which provides high-tech security — associated with cloud computing, database protections, and so forth — with IT security providers like Websense and Palo Alto. And in 2005 he founded IQOM Inteligencia Comercial, which provides online daily analysis of government trade measures that affect corporations involved in Latin America.

To be sure, the other heavyweight country in the region also has a candidate who can throw diplomatic punches.

Roberto Azevedo has been Brazil’s ambassador to the WTO since 2008. A member of Brazil’s foreign service since 1984, Azevedo hasn’t yet reached ministerial rank. But the well-liked Brazilian diplomat certainly has been given important tasks. He has been Brazil’s chief negotiator for the Doha Round, so he has seen first-hand how the politics have played out behind closed doors. And as vice-minister for economic and technological affairs, Azevedo has supervised MERCOSUR’s trade negotiations with countries beyond Latin America.

Azevedo, although educated as an electrical engineer (and in international relations at the Institute Rio Branco, which is Brazil’s foreign ministry’s diplomatic academy), can also point to some impressive legal accomplishments in the (very important) WTO dispute resolution process.

He has successfully litigated WTO cases that targeted European and American airplane subsidies, and also U.S. cotton subsidies that were determined to be inconsistent with WTO rules.  These are significant accomplishments — and for the political skills displayed, not just the solid legal cases that Azevedo and his advisors put together.

In recent days, Azevedo has become deeply involved in WTO discussions of how to resolve the very politically touchy issues associated with currency appreciations and depreciations that can affect (or distort) global trade flows. The touchy part, of course, comes with the many complaints about how China is managing its Renminbi — a subject of hot dispute between Brazil, China, the United States and other countries. Azevedo is credited by WTO insiders for displaying deft diplomatic skills in the talks, as well as an impressive grasp of a complex diplomatic and economic set of issues.

Apart from the famous Brazilian-Mexican rivalry for leadership in anything, Azevedo conceivably could have a second problem that could come up when the WTO General Council starts weighing the nine candidates. In the press release that Brazil’s foreign ministry issued to announce its support for Azevedo’s aspirations to lead the WTO, there was this interesting statement: “The Brazilian candidacy reflects the importance the country attaches to the strengthening of the WTO.”

The reason the foreign ministry’s statement has raised some eyebrows is that it has never been obvious to everyone just how serious Brazil has ever been about strengthening the WTO. Certainly in the Doha negotiations, Brazilian intransigence has always been cited as one of the important reasons the talks have floundered. Azevedo has had a seat at the table, but he’s never been authorized to deliver. Will the members of the WTO’s General Council — few of whom themselves come from countries that are free of blame for the Doha impasse — punish Azevedo for his country’s difficult negotiating positions?

Similar questions directed at what they might be able to deliver as head of the WTO are also likely to be asked of the two African candidates. Remember how some African delegates cheered on the floor of the convention center in Cancun, when the 2003 WTO ministerial meetings collapsed? Insiders in elite international trade circles certainly do — although, again, few of them bring really “clean hands” to the table.

[This writer, like more than a few outsiders who try to figure out such things, isn’t sure whether it’s mainly the rich countries’ undeniable selfishness that have plagued the Doha process, or the bitter Third World resentments, where no “concession” they are handed ever seems to be enough. Even better-informed insiders love to argue this. Regardless, when Kenya’s Amina Mohamed and Alan Kyerematen of Ghana make their presentations before the General Council on Jan. 29, such questions will be hanging in the air, even if they might not be voiced out loud.]

Regardless of how each candidate may, or may not, be able to bridge the rich-country, poor-country divide that has torn the fabric of the Doha talks, both African contenders bring some strong personal qualities to the table.

Amina Mohamed — everyone seems to call her by her first name — is one of the bright lights of Kenya’s diplomatic service. Amina’s very popular in Geneva (especially in the General Council, which will pick Lamy’s successor).

She earned her legal diplomas from the University of Kiev and the Kenya School of Law — and then earned a post-graduate diploma in International Relations from Oxford. She speaks fluent, English, Russian, Swahili, and her resume notes a “working knowledge” of French.

Amina started her career as a legal advisor in Kenya’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1986, with her legal portfolio steadily expanding through the 1990s. In 2000, Amina became Kenya’s ambassador to the United Nations and other International Organizations in Geneva, notably including the WTO.

She knows the WTO very well, having chaired the WTO’s Dispute Settlement Body in 2004, and then as chairman of the General Council in 2005. It was then that I first became aware of Amina’s diplomatic skills. At the time, the General Council (and some African missions in Geneva) were embroiled in the emotional post-Cancun impasse that had already put the Doha Round, as Pascal Lamy put it, in “intensive care.” While the impasse wasn’t, of course, resolved, Ambassador Amina Mohamed won widespread plaudits for her patient diplomacy. She definitely has what’s sometimes called “people skills.”

Amina has served since July, 2011 as United Nations Assistant Secretary General and Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme — called by its acronym, UNEP — in Nairobi.

The other African candidate, Ghana’s Alan Kyerematen, is one of the leading political figures of his country (although his presidential candidacy was unsuccessful). Kyerematen is also known for his diplomatic abilities. This is a very attractive guy, and a man with considerable political skills who knows his economics.

Kyerematen is a former ambassador to the United States (2001 – 2003). He was his country’s Minister of Trade and Industry from 2003 to 2007. His resume notes that Kyerematen was “one of the lead negotiators for Africa the WTO Ministerial Conference in Cancun in 2003.” (To the best of my knowledge, Kyerematen wasn’t one who helped wreck the negotiations.)

Critics who might be inclined to suspect Kyerematen because of the crowd he represented in Cancun in 2003 might we well-advised to consider his performance two years later when WTO ministers next met in Hong Kong. Those meetings are still remembered for the positive negotiating atmosphere they fostered. And Kyerematen was again one of the key insiders who met in the most important closed-door meetings. So having seen it all from an important insider’s perspective, Kyerematen should know what it would take to bring the Doha Round back to life.

To the extent he can articulate a vision of how to resolve the impasse, Kyerematen could become a strong player in the WTO elections process. He’s got the backing — and the ear of — the African Union and of the ACP Group of African, Caribbean and Pacific nations.

Another impressive part of Kyerematen’s resume comes to mind when reading the WTO’s trade policy review of Ghana, which was released in 2008. The WTO reviewers gave the West African country good marks, noting that “trade liberalization has helped to achieve higher economic growth” by cutting tariffs and enacting various structural reforms. Growth had been an impressive 6.2% in 2006, the report noted. That economic good news came on Trade Minister Kyerematen’s watch.

Another Kyerematen-pushed initiative: UNCTAD’s World Investment Forum, which now annually publishes a World Investment Report. That report provides documentation on which countries have taken steps to attract much-needed foreign investment, and which have not. Ghana has been one of the star African performers.

The ninth candidate to succeed Pascal Lamy isn’t as well known in WTO circles as the others. But just a quick review of his resume shows why Jordan’s Ahmad Hindawi has earned a respectful hearing. He’s got a PhD in Manufacturing Engineering/Management from the UK’s Birmingham University. He also earned a masters in science degree (industrial engineering) from the University of Jordan, and a BS in Aeronautical Engineering from Purdue University.

Hindawi has moved for the last quarter century in the most economically progressive business circles in the Middle East. Hindawi was Jordan’s Minister of Industry and Trade from 2004 – 2005, where he played a leading role in Jordan’s preferential trade agreement with the United States, Jordan’s WTO accession, and also in promoting closer economic ties with the European Union.

Hindawi established a regional management consultancy firm, Hindawi Excellence Group in 2006, which operates from Dubai. In his spare time, he likes to play basketball. (Pascal Lamy’s well-known passion as a marathon runner is sometimes linked in the public mind with the patience he has displayed in steering the WTO. Perhaps Hindawi’s supporters will remind the General Council that basketball, when played at its highest levels, is a team sport.)

We’ll all learn more about him — and the other aspiring WTO leaders — on Jan. 29, when the contest between the nine candidates really gets going. Stay tuned.

 



The WTO’s “Dangerous” Election

posted by
on January 21, 2013

The WTO’s “Dangerous” Election

(first of two parts)

 

Nine candidates have thrown their hats into the proverbial ring to succeed Pascal Lamy as Director-General of the World Trade Organization, whose term expires on Aug. 31. So it’s timely to take a careful look at their backgrounds, and also at some of the geo-political crosscurrents that, fairly or unfairly, will eliminate all but the last candidate standing. But the broader context is more important, as the future of this pillar of the global trading system has become a cause of concern.

It takes a little history — an appreciation of a proud track record that, if not totally forgotten, one that world leaders seem to have taken too much for granted in recent years — to understand why this particular change of leadership is so important.

The WTO represents one of the worlds most enduring economic success stories. It began more than a half century ago. In 1947, 23 countries led by the United States — their leaders’ memories fresh from the destructive protectionism and currency wars that had helped fuel two world wars in the 20th century — launched the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. The Gatt was designed to administer increasingly enlightened rules that would govern and liberalize international trade. Never again would trade wars be permitted to egg on real shooting wars, major world leaders vowed.

And that core political wisdom has paid off over the ensuing decades. Eight successful Gatt negotiating rounds gradually slashed tariffs, subsidies and other trade barriers that had been holding back prosperity. Today, hundreds of millions of people from all corners of the globe — many of whom have never even heard of the Gatt — enjoy better lives that come with greater economic opportunities, thanks to the foresight of that multilateral institution’s founding members.

Today, the World Trade Organization, which took over the Gatt’s functions in 1995, and is headquartered in the same stately edifice along the shores of Lake Geneva, now has 157 member countries. The WTO presides over more than $22 trillion in annual global trade flows of merchandise and commercial services. But now, the estimable multilateral institution, as renowned trade theorist Jagdish Bhagwati recently told Tom Miles of Reuters, is “really in danger.” The last successful Gatt/WTO trade-liberalizing negotiations were concluded in 1994 — going on two decades ago. The ninth round been mostly dead in the water for much of that time. And meanwhile, but WTO members have undermined the institution’s core principle — that all member countries treat all of their trading partners equally — by cutting hundreds of preferential bilateral and regional pacts, every one of which is aimed at distorting global trade flows by discriminating against those who are not included.

Nobody is presently leading the WTO. Not the United States, anymore. Europe is more focused on its own economic problems, not multilateral trade liberalization. Certainly not Japan, China, or the rest of Asia. India and Brazil? Not much vision there. And definitely not Africa and the Caribbean nations. The WTO has been drifting as an institution since Nov. 1999, when it’s ministerial meetings famously collapsed in acrimony on the streets of Seattle. The WTO’s Doha Round, intended to further slash the world’s remaining trade barriers, has been mostly in intensive care since it’s launch in 2001 — there are more sightings of Elvis these days than of signs of life in the Doha negotiations.

Don’t blame the 600-plus dedicated international civil servants who work at WTO headquarters in Geneva for the Doha doldrums; if it had been up to them, the Doha Round would have been completed years ago. Don’t blame Director-General Pascal Lamy, the energetic-and-able French politician who has worked tirelessly since his term began in 2005. Blame today’s world leaders — mostly second-raters compared to the Gatt’s visionary founders — for not having summoned the political will to give Lamy the necessary support to wrap up the Doha negotiations and give a giant boost to the world economy. (Of the 157 WTO members, only a handful might be singled out for having repeatedly done everything they could to boost the Doha process: Singapore, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Chile, Costa Rica, Australia, plus perhaps Sweden and some enlightened Europeans.)

But as elections are always about renewal, the WTO’s member countries now have a wonderful opportunity to wake up and end the drift.

Three of the nine candidates are from the Asia-Pacific region. Three are from Latin America. Two Africans and one aspiring director-general from Jordan round off the list. The good news is that every one of these people has impressive qualifications. It’s easy to find positive things to say about all of their collective backgrounds and life experiences, as we’ll see shortly. But it is not apparent that every one of them has what it takes to end the drift, or that the WTO’s member countries want that.

Whatever they want, this WTO election sure is different than what many would consider a “normal” one. There won’t be public polls. No focus groups.  No campaign rallies. No television commercials. And there will never be a recorded vote.

The candidates will present themselves to the WTO’s General Council in Geneva on Jan. 29, in public proceedings that will be broadcast on the Internet. They will take questions, drawn from a box at random. And then they will get on the road for the next couple months, making their cases to the usual suspects in various word capital cities: trade officials, political leaders, and — horrors, if the WTO’s pesky band of vociferous anti-trade activists gets wind of this! — even corporate lobbyists. Some of the latter, to be sure, will offer enlightened perspectives in the public interest of strengthening the WTO as an institution. Others will have parochial axes to grind. But all will know how to whisper in the ears of the mighty and good in world capital cities.

In lieu of taking a recorded vote, the powers in the General Council will talk to each other quietly (remember, the WTO is a consensus-based institution where any member can exercise a veto — although it is highly unlikely that the likes of Samoa or Fiji will ever exercise that “right”). They will take various political pulses. They will listen to the whispers and winks-and-nods from interested representatives of the 157 countries. They will consider regional and personal rivalries that come with the territory in world politics. They will receive shared confidences, quietly.

They will ask: which of the nine is your first choice, which ones could you still live with, and which ones are simply unacceptable? And gradually, they will winnow out the field by persuading the losers who lack the necessary political support to “voluntarily” withdraw their candidacies. All these things will happen, until the consensus winner is proclaimed by May 31. When Lamy departs on Aug. 31, the new director-general will immediately begin preparing for the WTO’s next ministerial meetings, which will be held in Bali in early December. That’s when the rest of the world will see clearly whether the new WTO leader will start delivering tangible results that would credibly begin the process of halting the institutional drift.

 

For eight of the nine, at least, the process will be somewhat opaque and unfair, as pure merit can tend to get lost in the shuffle. Some candidates will be dismissed, not for their lack of qualifications, but because they come from the wrong country, or region. Still, while the process has its critics, it’s worked pretty well for more than a half century. By and large, the GATT and WTO have been led by estimable figures: Peter Sutherland, Arthur Dunkel, Mike Moore, to cite just three former directors-general whose names immediately come to mind when thinking of quality leaders.

Here are thumbnail sketches of the first three of the nine candidates, beginning with those from from the Asia-Pacific region. (The remaining six, and the politics they face, will be profiled in this space on Wednesday.)

The three Asian-Pacific aspirants are South Korea’s trade minister, Taeho Bark, Tim Groser, who is New Zealand’s minister of trade (and climate change); and Mari Pangestu, a former Indonesian trade minister who presently is minister of tourism.

First, consider Groser.

Nobody knows the WTO and its politics better than Tim Groser. With Groser, there is no doubt that he would move heaven and earth to spark the WTO and its Doha negotiations. His resume sparkles: New Zealand’s ambassador to Indonesia (1994 -97). New Zealand’s chief negotiator during the Uruguay Round from 1990 to 1994 (the last successful GATT/WTO negotiation).

Groser has been a forceful presence during the Doha talks. As ambassador to the WTO from 2002-2005, he chaired the rules negotiating group, and also headed the group that handled the agriculture negotiations. In 2004, Groser accomplished something really difficult — a so-called “framework” agreement on cutting trade-distorting farm subsidies. That absolutely key deal still could pave the way to a successful conclusion to the Doha process. Groser, who entered New Zealand’s domestic political arena as a member of parliament in 2005, has also been seasoned in domestic political combat (and not just on trade, but the always-contentious issues that come with the territory of his climate-change responsibilities).

Groser’s main problem — and it could sink his candidacy — is that many of the WTO’s members from poor countries don’t want the next director-general to come from a rich, successful free-trading county. New Zealand has prospered in recent decades ever since it summoned the political will to dismantle the many protectionist barriers that had crippled the Kiwi economy. Is it perverse to say that a candidate from such a country should not be qualified to lead the WTO? Of course. But that’s the nature of this particular political process that such perversities are nonetheless widely accepted. (As we’ll see on Wednesday, Costa Rica’s candidate faces the same sort of jealousies, as that Central American country is another that has prospered to the extent it has opened its markets and prospered accordingly.)

Groser also will face suggestions that since another accomplished Kiwi, Mike Moore, has already been the WTO’s director-general, perhaps it’s time for someone from another country. Of course, the same — flimsy — excuse could be offered for not supporting candidates from, say, Mexico, Brazil, or Korea, as officials from those countries have also been playing prominent roles in international organizations. But when it comes to regional- and country rivalries, such potential issues should never be dismissed offhand. In 1999, the race to succeed Director-General Renato Ruggiero became so bitter that the next WTO leader’s term was split between New Zealand’s Moore and Thailand’s Supachai Panitchpakdi, who served from 1999-2002, and then 2002-2005, respectively.

Indonesia’s candidate is also likely to be a strong one.

Mari Pangestu also brings solid credentials to the race: BA in economics, with Honors, from Australian National University. Doctorate in economics from the University of California, Davis. Spent most of the 1990s with the respected Center for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta, Indonesia’s most influential think tank. Started as a research associate, then became head of the economics department, and was promoted to become CSIS’ executive director in 1997.

Pangestu was tapped in 2004 as trade minister by — as her resume proudly notes — Indonesia’s first directly-elected president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. She helped create Indonesia’s current trade department. Since October of 2011 Pangestu has been Indonesia’s tourism minister, where her resume notes she has also been involved in “creating new organizational structure and system.” So she has management skills.

Pangestu has played important roles in big trade talks: representing Indonesia in the WTO’s Doha Round, and also regional groupings in ASEAN. As trade minister, she also launched bilateral preferential trade deals with Japan and other countries. In the WTO, Pangestu has earned respect for her work with important regional groupings like the G-20 group  of developing nations, and the Cairns Group , which promotes agricultural trade liberalization.

Pangestu’s negotiating experience has been strengthened by her active participation in the so-called Green Room when negotiations heated up. I remember how in 2005, during the WTO’s ministerial meetings in Hong Kong, Pangestu won the respect of both European and American trade officials for both the political savvy and technical expertise that she brought to the always-contentious agricultural negotiations. If she now ends up as the next WTO director-general, nobody would be surprised. With the race to succeed Lamy now in the early stages, forecasts are naturally uncertain. But the well-liked Pangestu could well be the consensus candidate, the last one standing — after the others knock each other out.

Pangestu’s potential problem — like Groser’s and the others — is the country she comes from, although for decidedly different reasons. Indonesia, presently in a chest-thumping economic nationalist mood, has been developing a reputation as a difficult country when it comes to trade liberalization. One recent headline from the Jakarta Post says it all: Indonesia “not ready to join Asia-Pacific free trade plan.” Indonesia hasn’t gone to the mat to try to complete the Doha negotiations, either.

While the elected Indonesian political leaders have been responsible for the protectionist backsliding, the blame could rub off on Pangestu. While in theory, Pangestu’s personal qualifications should be the most important factor, not her country’s negotiating track record, that’s often not the way that the WTO’s politics play out.

When I asked her directly about the above, Pangestu replied that she intends to address publicly the question of her vision in greater depth when the WTO’s General Council meets on Jan. 29. But she offered that if she becomes Lamy’s successor, she will be looking for opportunities for “pulling the lever that will help bridge the divide that has been holding up the talks and find areas of common opportunities.” Her international experience, Pangestu added, has given her “a good understanding of what is needed” to break the Doha logjam.

Korea’s Taeho Bark (many American readers will prefer the more commonly translated last name of “Park,” as the Korean characters for both names are the same) also brings an impressive background to the race. Earned his BA in economics from Seoul National University, went on to become a PhD at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His academic achievements include stints teaching at Georgetown University, in Washington, D.C., at the Jackson School of International Studies (University of Washington), and at Stanford. He has also been dean for international affairs and director of the Institute for International Studies at Seoul National University.

Bark is by all accounts a very personable man, whose personal accomplishments have been in tandem with the admirable rise of his country as a prosperous member of the international trading system. He has also been a prolific author of articles and books relating to international trade and investment, as well as the Korean economy.

Bark was also a member of the WTO’s Dispute Settlement Panel from 1995-1997. He gave testimony for Korea’s WTO accession before that, and advised the Korean delegation in the Gatt in the early 1990s. He has been Korea’s trade minister since December, 2011. The energetic Korean has been busy negotiating what he calls “WTO-plus” preferential trade deals with a variety of countries including Colombia, Turkey, Australia, China, China-Japan, and a plurilateral deal with ASEAN, Australia, China, India, Japan and New Zealand.

Bark’s resume adds, with commendable understatement, that “despite considerable political sensitivities in both Korea and the United States, he was instrumental in bringing about the entry into force of the Korea-U.S. FTA.”

Some of the continuing aftershocks of that deal illustrate some of the political perils that come with the territory of being a trade minister. The Detroit auto lobby has complained that Bark has been too slow in pressuring the transportation ministry in Seoul to fully implement various technical provisions of the auto industry parts of the trade pact with the Americans. While industry sources are reluctant to confirm whether they will be making their feelings known to the Obama White House — officials at the National Association of Auto Dealers declined to comment — it’s reasonable to speculate that they well might.

When I asked him about this, Bark essentially shrugged and said that taking heat — and often from all sides simultaneously — is part of his job. Issues associated with Korea’s auto-safety system, he notes, “became very complicated with multiple agreements with the United States since 1995 and most recently with the Korea-US FTA.” He says that Korea’s transportation ministry has “attempted to consolidate them to establish the new system, which causes conflicts with the global car makers of the United States.” And if the Americans have been complaining that Bark hasn’t done enough for them, some Korean auto interests protest that he has done too much —- as Bark notes, trade ministers tend to be caught in the crossfires.

Bark explains that during the implementation of his country’s trade deal with the U.S., he has “played a key role in persuading the Ministry, directly and indirectly, for instance, through the President’s office, to suspend the movement and have due consultations with the United States before making the decision.” He adds that he has always resisted protectionism. “Maybe my efforts inside my government went unnoticed by the outside,” Bark suggests.

Coming on Jan. 23: the conclusion —- reporting and analysis of the backgrounds and prospects for the three aspiring WTO leaders from Latin America, the two from Africa, and the contender from the Middle East.