Trump Adviser, Europe Trade Fighter to Vie for OECD Top Job

This content was published on November 2, 2020 - 13:01

(Bloomberg) -- Ten countries nominated candidates to take over the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, with the U.S. facing off against Sweden, Greece, Canada among others.

The U.S. proposed Christopher Liddell, a top aide to Donald Trump, to lead the Paris-based group following the retirement of Secretary General Angel Gurria next year. He’ll face competition from former European Union trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, nominated by Sweden.

The OECD, which released the full list of candidates on Monday, acts like an auditor for globalization, shaping policies and setting standards in areas from taxation to trade and education. It’s currently running contentious negotiations over digital taxes, which it’s trying to prevent exploding into a transatlantic trade war.

The organization was formally established in 1961 when the U.S. and Canada joined what was originally a European group running the Marshall Plan after World War II. While still majority European, it’s grown to become a global forum.

Under Gurria’s 15-year stewardship, it expanded further and took on a more pro-active role, notably leading a crackdown on tax havens after the financial crisis and working more closely with large non-members China and India.

Gurria’s replacement will get a seat at the top table of global policy negotiations at the Group of 20, backed by a team of more than 3,000 economists, lawyers and scientists operating from the Chateau de la Muette in western Paris.

The next stage of the process will see candidates interviewed by member countries. The Chair of the Selection Committee, U.K. Ambassador Christopher Sharrock, will then consult with governments to try to narrow the list down to someone who can win consensus support.

Christopher Liddell

Trump’s pick for the top job also has New Zealand citizenship, bolstering his international credentials. Unlike other candidates, Liddell, 62, has lengthy experience in the private sector with a stint as chief financial officer at both General Motors Co. and Microsoft Corp. A key question mark hanging over his candidacy is whether Joe Biden, if he won the presidential election, would continue to back the nomination. Other OECD countries may also be skeptical of a Trump-backed candidate given the disagreements over digital taxation.

Cecilia Malmstrom

The 52-year-old Swedish politician is vaunting her experience of multilateral negotiations as an EU Trade Commissioner. While in that role, she worked closely on agreements with Canada, Japan, and the Mercosur trading bloc, as well as the dispute with the U.S. She’s said the OECD must address climate change, digital taxation, and make the case for the “good aspects of globalization.” If successful, Malmstrom would be the first woman to head the OECD and the first European in over two decades.

Kersti Kaljulaid

Malmstrom is not the only European woman in the running. Kaljulaid, Estonia’s first ever female president, says she can bring experience from a country that has transitioned to democracy to build one of the most digitally advanced societies with a leading education system. The 50-year-old said in an interview with Bloomberg News that taxing tech giants is “only the first step,” and the OECD needs to consider the broader issue of how societies can provide public services when individuals are moving and selling their work globally.

Bill Morneau

The Canadian government is proposing its former finance minister as a consensus broker on key topics like digital taxation. Morneau, who resigned in August citing his interest in the OECD role, has experience of the G-20 and G-7, the IMF and the World Bank. After announcing his candidacy in late September, the 58-year-old traveled to Paris to spend several weeks meeting ambassadors. Convincing delegates he should be the next Secretary General may be tricky, as Gurria’s predecessor at the OECD helm, Donald Johnston, was also a Canadian.

Vladimir Dlouhy

Head of the Czech Chamber of Commerce, Dlouhy, 67, is calling for the OECD to stick to a limited number of priorities and wants it to listen more to members. The Czech government says his time as a minister in the country’s first post-communist government equipped him with experience of managing complex transitions that advanced economies will have to undergo in the wake of the Covid crisis. It’s also says the appointment would help redress central Europe’s under-representation in international institutions.

Mathias Cormann

Australia’s longest serving finance minister could be a compromise candidate for Europe and the U.S. Belgian-born Cormann, 50, is a pro-market, pro-small government Christian conservative who says witnessing the fall of the Berlin Wall was a key influence in his political development. A native German speaker, Cormann is also fluent in French, an official language at the Paris-based organization together with English. Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Cormann would provide “a voice from the Asia Pacific, which will increasingly be the center of the global economy.” Famous for his Teutonic accent in Australia, Cormann does an uncanny impersonation of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “I’ll be back” from The Terminator.

Anna Diamantopoulou

Diamantopoulou, 61, began her political career in local administration when she was appointed as the youngest-ever governor of the region of Kastoria, at the age of 25. She was first elected to the Greek parliament in 1996 with the Socialist PASOK party when she also became deputy minister for development, and she’s also been EU Commissioner. She’s well known in Greece for her overhaul of the higher education system in 2011, when she was education minister. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said she is “the modern Greek woman,” and has been associated with bold choices, great consensus and innovative proposals.

Philipp Hildebrand

Hildebrand is currently vice-chairman of BlackRock after a career that went from hedge funds and private banking to Switzerland’s central bank. His tenure as president of the Swiss National Bank ended in controversy in 2012 after revelations about currency purchases by his then wife shortly before the bank introduced a cap on the Swiss franc. Though he said he had no knowledge of the transactions, the controversy proved too much and he quit after just two years in the role. He’s also been touted as a possible successor to Urs Rohner as chairman of Credit Suisse.

Ulrik Vestergaard Knudsen

Denmark’s Knudsen is an internal OECD nominee, having been deputy secretary-general at the organization since January 2019. A tennis-playing rock music aficionado, he’s a popular figure among politicians and diplomats. He was at one time an ambassador to the OECD, and has worked at Denmark’s foreign ministry and served as an advisor to the prime minister on security policy and the EU.

Michal Kurtyka

Kurtyka, 47, is Poland’s first Climate Minister, appointed in 2019 and leading the coal-reliant country’s transition away from the fossil fuel. He first made a splash in 2018 as the head of the United Nations climate talks held in Katowice, the heart of Poland’s coal country. The summit produced a rulebook that detailed ways to implement the Paris Agreement from 2015.

Kurtyka, who was in charge of a so-far toothless electric-vehicle strategy, produced an ambitious plan this year to cut the share of coal in Poland’s electricity generation to 11% in 2040 from about 70% now, while investing in solar, wind and nuclear power. He may be facing his toughest test yet as Poland, the only EU country not to sign up to the 2050 climate neutrality goal, negotiates its share of the bloc’s green budget.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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