Selection of Director General Offers Chance for New Start at World Trade Organization

A change in leadership at the World Trade Organization (WTO) this summer may provide an opportunity for a new beginning at the only global international organization dealing with the rules of trade.

On May 14, current WTO Director General Roberto Azevêdo of Brazil suddenly announced he will leave the position on August 31, a year before the formal end of his term.

Azevêdo said in a statement that he timed his departure so the process of selecting his successor wouldn’t distract the WTO’s next big ministerial conference, which now is likely to be delayed into 2021.

The next major WTO meeting could be a turning point for discussions on the future of the organization. The 12th Ministerial “M 12” meeting, June 8–11, 2021, is tentatively scheduled for Kazakhstan. Modernization and reform of the trading system will be a major topic.

The discussion this summer will now center on from which continent or region the next Director General should hail. Previous Director General Pascal Lamay was from France.

The conversation about the next Director General may well help set the tone and agenda of the membership organization. Regardless of its leadership, the Geneva-based organization is an important player in global trade.

Director General candidates were nominated by their governments starting June 8. Candidates will be invited to meet with WTO membership at a special General Council meeting this month at which they can present their views and take questions. Historically, a new Director General is appointed by consensus of the General Council following a several-month period during which candidates have the opportunity to make themselves known to WTO members.

The California Chamber of Commerce, in keeping with long-standing policy, enthusiastically supports free trade worldwide, expansion of international trade and investment, fair and equitable market access for California products abroad and elimination of disincentives that impede the international competitiveness of California business.

The CalChamber is hopeful the major trading economies can come to a consensus on a reform of the WTO in 2021. The revamp should address the functioning of the Appellate Body, encourage greater transparency and enhance discipline for members who fall behind on their reporting obligations.

WTO Candidates

As of July 8, the closing date for applications, the candidates for WTO Director General are as follows:

• Dr. Jesús Seade Kuri, Mexico

Undersecretary Seade was the first to be nominated for the position of Director General with the WTO. He is currently Mexico’s Undersecretary for North America and was chief negotiator of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), referred to in Mexico as TMEC (Treaty of Mexico, U.S., Canada).

Most recently, Undersecretary Seade served as the vice president of global affairs at the Chinese University of Hong Kong-Shenzhen, prior to that he was the vice president of Lingnan University of Hong Kong. Undersecretary Seade has held numerous positions as a global economic diplomat, including: principal economist of the World Bank; senior advisor at the International Monetary Fund; Ambassador of Mexico to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT); chief negotiator in the creation of the WTO, and in the accession of Mexico to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development; Mexican Ambassador to the WTO and the first Deputy Director General of the WTO.

Undersecretary Seade earned a Ph.D. in economics from Oxford University in England, and as a chemical engineer at National Autonomous University of Mexico (summa cum laude). Dr. Seade is fluent in all three official WTO languages (English, French and Spanish), as well as Portuguese, and has conversational knowledge of German.

The CalChamber hosted Undersecretary Seade in January 2020 at an International Luncheon Forum to speak about Mexico’s negotiations into the USMCA.

• Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala was the second nominee for Director General of the WTO. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is a global finance expert, economist and international development professional with more than 30 years of experience. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala served as Nigeria’s Finance Minister from 2003–2006 and 2011–2015, and briefly as Foreign Minister in 2006, being the first woman to hold both positions.

In her time as Finance Minister, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala negotiated with the Paris Club of Creditors to wipe out $30 billion of Nigeria’s debt and led reforms that enhanced government transparency and strengthened institutions against corruption.

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala had a 25-year career at the World Bank, where she served as a development economist and rose to the No. 2 position of managing director. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has received many awards and recognitions as a top female leader in Africa and the world including: Top 3 Most Powerful Women in Africa (Forbes, 2012); Top 100 Most Influential People in the World (TIME, 2014); Global Finance Minister of the Year (Euromoney, 2005); and the Madeleine K. Albright Global Development Award from the Aspen Institute in 2017.

Most recently, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala became an Angelopoulos Global Public Leader at Harvard University’s Kennedy School and currently serves on many boards including the Board of the African Union’s African Risk Capacity (ARC) as the chair. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala earned a Ph.D. in regional economics and development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

• Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh, Egypt

Mamdouh was nominated to the WTO Director General position by Egypt, where he has served as a negotiator since 1985 and a senior WTO official since 1990. Mamdouh has held many positions at the WTO, including: assistant to the deputy director general of the GATT; senior counsellor in the Trade and Services Division; and director of the Trade in Services and Investment Division, a post he held from 2001 to 2017.

Mamdouh was the lead Secretariat official on the negotiation and drafting of the GATT. Currently, he is a visiting industry professor at the University of London and senior counsel at King & Spalding LLP. Mamdouh is an Egyptian and Swiss national who speaks Arabic, English and French fluently.

• Ambassador Tudor Ulianovschi, Moldova

Ulianovschi was nominated for the WTO Director General position by Moldova, where he recently served as Minister of Foreign Affairs followed by serving as Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs for several years. Under his mandate, Moldova: ratified and implemented the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement and became a member of the WTO Government Procurement Agreement; finalized the Association Agreement with the European Union; signed a free trade agreement with Turkey; and initiated consultations on a free trade agreement with European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries.

Minister Ulianovschi was the top Moldovan diplomat in Geneva between 2016 and 2018, serving as the Ambassador to Switzerland and Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva and WTO. During this time, Minister Ulianovschi served on and chaired various committees including: chairman of the WTO Balance of Payments Committee, president of the Trade and Development Board at the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), vice president of the General Assembly at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), and president of the Steering Committee on Trade at U.N. Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).

Minister Ulianovschi also previously held a position in the private sector as senior vice president of global government relations for a multinational company based in Canada. Minister Ulianovschi is a Ph.D. candidate at the Free International University of Moldova. He speaks Romanian, English, Russian and French fluently and has intermediate knowledge of Spanish and Arabic.

• Minister Yoo Myung-Hee, South Korea

Minister Yoo was nominated for WTO Director General by the Republic of Korea, where she is the first female trade minister. Minister Yoo has had a 25-year career in trade, having been a key free trade agreement (FTA) strategist for Korea. During this time, Minister Yoo took charge of the WTO affairs in the Korean Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, and negotiated the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the Korea-China FTA, and the Korea-U.S. (KORUS) FTA, among other initiatives.

Minister Yoo was the first director of the new FTA Policy Division at theMinistry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, where she designed Korea’s FTA strategy in 2005. This strategy resulted in Korea’s FTA network that includes 56 countries, at all levels of development.

Minister Yoo has an M.A. in public policy from Seoul National University in Korea and a J.D. from Vanderbilt University. She was admitted to the New York State Bar in 2003.

• Ambassador Amina C. Mohamed, Kenya

Ambassador Mohamed was nominated by Kenya for the position of WTO Director General. Ambassador Mohamed served as Kenya’s Permanent Representative and Ambassador to the WTO from 2000 to 2006 and was subsequently chairperson for multiple WTO decision-making bodies, including: the 2015 Ministerial Conference, the 2005 General Council, 2004 Dispute Settlement Body, and the 2004 Trade Policy Review Body.

Ambassador Mohamed then became the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs from 2008 to 2011 where she presided over the 2010 Constitution of Kenya. Ambassador Mohamed also served as Assistant Secretary-General of the U.N. and Deputy Executive Director of the U.N. Environmental Programme (UNEP) from 2011 to 2013. Most recently, Ambassador Mohamed served as Kenya’s Foreign Affairs and International Trade Minister from 2013 to 2018 where she facilitated foreign direct investment inflows to Kenya, increasing foreign direct investment (FDI) into Kenya by 400%.

Ambassador Mohamed earned a master’s degree in law from Taras Shevchenko University in Ukraine and received a postgraduate diploma in international relations as a Chevening Fellow at Oxford University. She is a UNITAR Fellow and is fluent in English, Russian, Kiswahili and has knowledge of French.

• Minister Mohammad Maziad Al-Tuwaijri, Saudi Arabia

Minister Al-Tuwaijri was nominated for the Director General position at the WTO by Saudi Arabia. Minister Al-Tuwaijri began his career at the Saudi British Bank Saudi Arabia where he spent 12 years, eventually rising to the position of group head of treasury and Board member of HSBC Saudi Arabia. Minister Al-Tuwaijri then worked at JP Morgan Saudi Arabia as the managing director and CEO, and went on to serve as group managing director, deputy chairman and CEO for HSBC Middle East, North Africa and Turkey.

Most recently, Minister Al-Tuwaijri served as Minister of Economy and Planning for Saudi Arabia from 2016 to the present, where he led the effort to increase the Kingdom’s diversification objectives and competitiveness. Minister Al-Tuwaijri is a strong advocate of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals.

He is a former Saudi Air Force pilot and has served on 45 boards, committees and commissions. Minister Al-Tuwaijri holds an M.B.A. in finance with honors from King Saud University.

• Dr. Liam Fox, United Kingdom

Dr. Liam Fox was nominated for the position of WTO Director General in the final hour by the United Kingdom. Dr. Fox was first elected to Parliament in 1992 and served there until 2010, holding several ministerial roles, including Lord Commissioner of the Treasury and Minister of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, where he answered on Trade Aid and Policy in the House of Commons.

In 2010, Dr. Fox was then appointed Secretary of State for Defense. From 2016 to 2019, Dr. Fox served as U.K. Secretary of State for International Trade, building a new department of government overseeing the U.K.’s first independent trade policy in 40 years following Brexit. Dr. Fox has discussed the theme of trade, prosperity and security throughout his career, and is an advocate of the International Trade Centre’s “SheTrades” initiative.

Dr. Fox was born in Scotland, where he earned an MB ChB from the University of Glasgow Medical School. He then worked as a general practitioner, divisional surgeon and civilian army medical officer before being elected to Parliament. Dr. Fox also previously worked as a speech writer to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. He is the author of the book titled Rising Tides, published in 2013, and is currently working on another book about pandemics.

More Information

For more information about the WTO, please visit

Biographies of WTO candidates prepared by Nicole Ellis, CalChamber international affairs assistant.

Staff Contact: Susanne T. Stirling

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Susanne T. Stirling, vice president, international affairs, has headed CalChamber international activities for more than four decades. She is an appointee of the U.S. Secretary of Commerce to the National Export Council, and serves on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce International Policy Committee, the California International Relations Foundation, and the Chile-California Council. Originally from Denmark, she studied at the University of Copenhagen and holds a B.A. in international relations from the University of the Pacific, where she served as a regent from 2012 to 2021. She earned an M.A. from the School of International Relations at the University of Southern California.