On 5 March, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly said that Egypt would exert every effort to back Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh for the position of director-general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
He praised the Egyptian candidate’s 27-year experience in working for the WTO after a meeting with Mamdouh who praised the prime minister for his campaign to secure the position.
Mamdouh aims to get the support of regional and African nations for his nomination as director-general of the WTO, a global organisation with 164 member countries that regulates the rules of trade between nations. It was born out of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) established in 1947.
Speaking to Egypt’s Al-Youm Al-Sabea news website, Mamdouh said that WTO member-states had agreed to choose a candidate from Africa, as this was the only continent that had not produced a director-general for the organisation.
The African Union (AU) will decide on its candidate for the WTO leadership position during its meetings in Addis Ababa this month, choosing between three candidates supported by Egypt, Nigeria, and Benin.
Mamdouh is aiming to ensure the support of African states that are members of the WTO by visits to them. He also plans visits to a number of Arab and foreign states.
Concerning his vision of international trade, the veteran Egyptian diplomat told the newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm that he believed that facilitating trade flow among states was key to increasing international growth rates and investments, along with creating job opportunities and better welfare states.
Inter-state negotiations were very important to meet these objectives, he said, which would require new rules for trade through the WTO framework.
The director-general of the WTO is appointed for a four-year term, then being eligible for reappointment. The appointment process starts nine months ahead of the expiry of the current director-general’s term.
Member states of the organisation have one month after the start of the appointment process to nominate candidates. The candidates have three months to make themselves known to member states and to engage in discussions on issues facing the WTO. They are invited to make brief presentations, including their vision for the WTO, followed by a question-and-answer period.
The WTO’s General Council needs to arrive at a consensus before a candidate can be appointed.
Mamdouh graduated from Cairo University in 1974 with a Bachelor’s degree in law. He started his professional career as third secretary in Egypt’s embassies in Ethiopia and Australia during the late 1970s and early 1980s. He then served as assistant to the under-secretary for commercial representation at the ministry of the economy and foreign trade, working on bilateral trade relations.
For two two-year periods from 1985 to 1989, he was first commercial secretary at the permanent mission of Egypt to the GATT in Geneva. He was part of the Egyptian delegation in the preparation of the Uruguay Round on trade negotiations, the largest negotiation of its kind in history covering all aspects of international trade.
Mamdouh was also involved in issues of trade in services, investment and trade-related aspects of intellectual property protection (TRIPS), in addition to joining negotiating groups dealing with institutional and legal issues related to the overall functioning of the multilateral trading system.
He also worked as a legal advisor on dispute settlement for the GATT secretariat from 1990 to 1991, being assigned to work on the design and content of a future services agreement that eventually became the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) that entered into force in 1995.
Mamdouh was appointed assistant to the deputy director-general of the GATT in May 1991, providing guidance and support for the Uruguay Round negotiations with a particular focus on the services agreement and negotiating and drafting the GATS.
From 1993 to 2001, he was responsible for finalising the drafting of the GATS as a senior counsellor in the services division at the WTO’s Council for Trade in Services.
Mamdouh served as director of the WTO’s Trade in Services and Investment Division from 2001 until 2007. During this period, he oversaw the implementation of the GATS, negotiations on the liberalisation of trade in services, and the creation of new trade rules and legal, policy and technical support to member states.
He joined the University of London’s Centre for Commercial Law Studies (CCLS) as a visiting professor in 2018. One year earlier, he started advising private-sector clients and governments on legal, policy, and negotiating trade issues, especially those related to electronic commerce and investment, at the US law firm King & Spalding LLP.
He also offered assistance on technical and capacity-building issues concerning trade in services for state officials, negotiators, and international organisations.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 12 March, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly