Does it matter who the next WTO chief is?

The race for leadership of the World Trade Organization is in its final stages. After several rounds of consultations, the field of candidates has been winnowed to two: Mexico's Herminio Blanco and Brazil's Roberto Azevêdo. The candidates and their respective  governments are engaged in frantic last-minute lobbying. Via today's Financial Times:

The stakes are high. After stalled efforts to clinch a sweeping multilateral trade agreement in the decade-old Doha round, the WTO is seeking to revive its mission – and its relevancy – ahead of a big ministerial gathering in Bali in December.

But are the stakes really high for anyone other than the candidates? The trade organization has two principal functions: forum for multilateral negotiations and dispute resolution mechanism. It's not clear that even a charismatic and effective director general has much to say about either. The Doha negotiations--or whatever replaces them--will occur well above his pay grade. And the dispute resolution system is mostly in the hands of the experts who form panels and the appellate body members who render final judgements.    

The candidates themselves sometimes seem a bit muddled about whether their skills will matter. In the space of two paragraphs in a FT guest post, Blanco suggests both that the organization's future is entirely in the hands of states--and that the choice of  the next director general will be critical:

The current status quo is no longer an option. The WTO is as relevant as its member countries want it to be. It is now time for them to decide where they want this organisation to go and what role it should play in the years to come.

The on-going selection process for a new WTO director general constitutes a precious opportunity for members to move forward and to select a director general with the capacity to move the organisation beyond the status quo.

Blanco's first paragraph seems correct: the organization's membership has to decide what happens next. Both candidates are seasoned and accomplished, but neither is likely to have much impact on the organization's future trajectory.

The Multilateralist

Kenyatta headed to London?

Agence France-Presse and the Guardian are reporting that the British government has invited Keynan president--and ICC-indictee--Uhuru Kenyatta to London:

Britain has invited Kenya's new president to London next week in what will be the first trip outside Africa for the leader who is facing an international trial for crimes against humanity, officials said Friday.

The invitation for Uhuru Kenyatta to attend a conference on Somalia in London on Tuesday -- co-hosted by both Britain and Somalia -- marks a notable shift in attitude by Britain.

London, like the rest of the European Union and other Western powers, has a policy of only "essential contact" with anyone charged by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

President Kenyatta, voted into power in March 4 elections, is to go on trial in July at The Hague-based ICC for crimes against humanity related to post-election violence in 2007-2008.

Britain's high commissioner to Kenya Christian Turner delivered a letter of invitation to Kenyatta when they met on Wednesday, high commission spokesman John Bradshaw said.

At least in formal terms (if often not in practice), the Kenyan government and Kenyatta are cooperating with the court. The invitation is therefore not equivalent to one for Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir (who is in open defiance of the court). As Colum Lynch reported in FP, the United Nations recently clarified that its personnel may have a wide range of contact with ICC indictees who are cooperating. But the London invitation is still surprising. It comes shortly after judges rebuked the prosecutor's office for its handling of certain evidence in the Kenyatta case. Via Reuters:

Judges hearing the case against Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta at the International Criminal Court have sharply rebuked prosecutors for failing to disclose evidence that could be used in his defense, but stopped short of restarting the trial.

While the reprimand will have no impact on the trial itself, it is a fresh blow to prosecutors who accuse Kenya's newly-elected president of orchestrating bloody post-election clashes five years ago in which 1,200 people died.