The New York Times reports today that US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick is the frontrunner to become the next president of the World Bank. He would replace James Wolfensohn, whose second term ends next spring.
Mr. Zoellick has succeeded in launching a new round of multilateral trade talks and has championed regional and bilateral trade deals. Among those following developments is Washington Post columnist Sebastian Mallaby. Mr. Mallaby is also author of “The World’s Banker: A Story of Failed States, Financial Crises and the Wealth and Poverty of Nations,” which chronicles the tenure of James Wolfensohn. He was also a journalist with The Economist Magazine. In Washington, he spoke to English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua.
“Well, the first strong point that Bob Zoellick has is that he is extraordinarily smart. Of all the cabinet members in the Bush Administration, he probably is the most creative intellectually and comes up the smartest ways of thinking around obstacles. The other thing he has is that he launched the DOHA development round. The trade negotiations, which unlike previous rounds, sort of targeted at helping poor countries. And that’s obviously a great qualification for the World Bank job. Not only because it shows you care about poor countries, but it also because in launching this round he developed a lot of contacts in developing countries, which would put him in a good position when he, or if he, took over the World Bank,” he says.
Mr. Zoellick has spent the past week in West and Southern Africa. Asked whether there is any controversial in Mr. Zoellick’s policies, Mr. Mallaby replied, “ You can’t be the US Trade Representative without having some controversies. He’s gotten into fights about AIDS drug access for poor countries. Whether US patent protections on pharmaceuticals should be relaxed so that poor countries get better access. I would say he’s been on the good side of that debate. He’s tried to fight for a relaxation in the patent rules so that poor countries get more access. But there are certainly advocates out there who say he didn’t do enough. So, that’s one controversy. Another one has been that he’s been in the middle of a fight about how much trade agreements should have labor or environmental standards built into them. And again, I would say he’s moved the ball in favor of more environmental protections in trade agreements. But again, there are people who say he hasn’t done enough.”
Mr. Mallaby says Robert Zoellick has a reputation of pushing for bilateral and regional trade agreements, which have been described by many economists as hurting developing countries.
He also says anyone succeeding James Wolfensohn at the World Bank would have a hard time, describing Mr. Wolfensohn as a “tempestuous force of nature.”