The World Trade Organization has again chosen trade experts from China and the United States as deputies for its director-general, maintaining a delicate geopolitical balancing act which also keeps two fractious powers close at hand.
Two out of the four chosen are women, a first for the global trade watchdog. Their four predecessors, all men, stepped down on March 31.
Replacing their compatriots are Angela Ellard, an American lawyer and trade expert who has worked at the U.S. Congress, and Zhang Xiangchen, currently vice trade minister and its former WTO ambassador, the WTO said in a statement.
France’s WTO envoy Jean-Marie Paugam and Costa Rica’s former trade minister Anabel Gonzalez were also selected, it said.
“It is the first time in the history of our organisation that half of the DDGs (deputy director-generals) are women,” Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said in the statement.
Okonjo-Iweala, who became director-general on March 1, is the first woman and African at the WTO helm.
“This underscores my commitment to strengthening our organisation with talented leaders whilst at the same time achieving gender balance in senior positions,” she said.
Traditionally, WTO deputies come from the United States, European Union, Asia and a developing country. An Indian candidate Mohan Kumar had challenged China’s Zhang for the Asia post this time.
Henry Gao, a law professor at Singapore Management University, said that Zhang’s selection shows China’s growing importance within the body which it joined in 2001.
“The post is used for updating the DG on what major powers think. You really need to know what China thinks,” he said.
He added that the U.S. and Chinese appointments could provide a channel for the two countries to discuss trade matters.
The WTO did not elaborate on the deputies’ new roles. Responsibility for legal affairs dealing with trade dispute settlement, held previously by Germany’s Karl Brauner, is seen by trade experts as among the most important.