How EU screwed Kenya’s Amina’s bid for WTO job

The government has written a protest letter to the European Union (EU) delegation to Kenya over what it terms betrayal after it withdrew support for CS Amina Mohamed’s bid to head the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Kenya wrote to the EU on Tuesday after a Cabinet meeting where the matter was discussed, citing misrepresentation of facts about Amina’s bid, sources said yesterday.

Sources within government and diplomatic circles told The Standard that the EU had indicated support for Amina when campaigns started. EU had promised to support Kenya’s bid financially and also take a leading role in lobbying for the Sports CS, they said.

However, as assurances were being made in Nairobi, a separate campaign was being orchestrated from the EU headquarters in Brussels with a different candidate being fronted.

Kenya’s candidacy lost steam after EU members questioned Amina’s loyalty to the goals and ideals of the WTO.

Kenya’s closeness to China also came into sharp focus, sources said. China continues to take what many countries see as the undue advantage of poor nations by offering endless lines of credit often with little checks and balances but with punitive repayment options.

Beijing continues to dominate government to government business in Africa locking out other players from what has over the years been a lucrative market for foreign loan sharks and investors.

Nineteen years after becoming a member of the WTO, China, the world’s second-largest economy, has been in an increasingly tense standoff with the United States as well as Europe. This tension has continuously threatened to undermine the WTO’s authority as an arbiter of global trade.

In 2017, both the US and Europe accused the WTO of encouraging Beijing to flood the world with cheap exports while limiting foreign access to its own market. This way, US and EU argued, China was inevitably skewing business towards itself. Already, Chinese ascension within WTO has provided a major cause of friction between leading economies.

“The current global trade challenges require all members to work together. Regrettably, this is not happening today. The need to provide a level playing field with China as part of the negotiations towards an Investment Agreement in 2020 remains a priority for the EU and its companies,” a June statement by EU Commissioner Phil Hogan read.

An Amina-led administration created the impression she would be a partial arbiter whenever matters touching on China came up in the 164-member WTO Council. It is this perceived impartiality that made the EU to declare support for Nigerian candidate Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

The anger from Nairobi isn’t just about the lack of support. Those privy to talks that preceded Kenya’s protest letter to the EU team say it was the manner in which the EU conducted itself that got Kenya angry.

“To the last days, they never told the Kenyan delegation about their change of heart,” a source who did not wish to be named said. “They were just stringing them along.”

The Kenyan delegation went on a campaign blitz with Amina honouring numerous media interviews – both national and international – to outline her agenda. From face-to-face question and answer sessions to hours-long webinars.

When the WTO chairman David Walker, on September 18, confirmed Amina was among five candidates who’d qualified for the last round of tests, it was widely assumed this was so because of EU’s support.

Amina, Okonjo-Iweala, Yoo Myung-hee of South Korea, Mohammad Maziad Al-Tuwaijri of Saudi Arabia and Liam Fox of the UK remained in the race. All this time, the Kenyan team believed Amina was still a firm favourite.

“Members consider all highly qualified and respected individuals. I would also like to pay tribute to the dignified manner in which they, their delegations and their governments have conducted themselves in this process,” Walker told envoys of member states in Geneva, Switzerland, mid last month.

On September 15, as lobbying was going on, China went one up against its biggest rival in providing directions in one of the biggest trade rivalry stories of the century pitting Beijing against Washington. The WTO ruled that additional tariffs imposed in 2018 by the US on Chinese goods violated international trading rules, a blow to President Donald Trump’s administration’s trade war against China.

A three-person panel of WTO trade experts said Washington broke with global regulations in 2018 when it slapped more than $200 billion in levies on a slew of Chinese goods. Since March 2018, the US has imposed $400 billion in tariffs on Chinese exports.

“The US has not met its burden of demonstrating that the measures are provisionally justified,” the panel said in a report.

With Kenya’s intricate ties to China, EU delegates and those who supported its decision concluded that a Kenyan directorship had the possibility of leaning too close to Beijing. They thus decided to instead support Nigeria’s Okonjo-Iweala, who is one of the two remaining candidates for the position. The other candidate is Myung-hee, South Korean trade minister.

Kenya has vowed to keep contact with EU delegations at a bare minimum. Senior government officials told The Standard EU delegations seeking an audience with senior State officers will only be allowed to meet individuals at the directorship level. This is unlike before when they would access Principal Secretaries and Cabinet Secretaries.

Eventually, however, both the EU and Kenyan officials will have to face each other as their relationship is anchored on much more than the WTO’s top seat. Kenya remains a crucial geopolitical partner in the EU’s ambitions in the region.

For instance, the pacification of Somalia as well as securing maritime trade routes depend heavily on cooperation between the two entities.

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