By Ravi Nessman / AP
NEW DELHI: Amid a global debate about who should succeed him as World Bank president, Robert Zoellick said Friday that it is important for US candidates to get top leadership roles in international institutions if the world wants to keep Washington supporting them.
The 187-nation World Bank has been led by an American since its founding in 1944, while its sister lending organization, the International Monetary Fund, has always been headed by a European.
After Zoellick announced he would step down in June, some developing countries appealed for an end to the US hold on the top job at the international development organization that gives low-interest loans to developing countries.
While declining to address who should succeed him, Zoellick said he often finds himself fighting against critics inside the United States who want to distance Washington from global institutions.
No American has ever led the IMF, the United Nations, the World Trade Organization or any regional development bank, he said.
“I would just suggest, if you want to keep the United States engaged in multilateral organizations, keep openings somewhere. Because the issue that I have to deal with is keeping the United States supporting some of these organizations,” he said.
Last week, President Barack Obama nominated Jim Yong Kim, an American, to replace Zoellick. The other candidates are Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and former Colombian Finance Minister Jose Antonio Ocampo. Zoellick said all three candidates are excellent.
The selection, which will be made by the bank’s 25-member executive board, is expected next month.
Another sign that developing countries are chafing against the World Bank: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa agreed at a summit here Thursday to look into setting up their own so-called BRICS bank to make loans to the developing world.
Zoellick said the World Bank would support that venture and work to partner with it, providing its decades of experience and doing the type of joint financing projects it currently coordinates with the Islamic Development Bank.
However, he cautioned, it could take awhile before any BRICS bank gets off the ground, because of the difficult decisions about who will put up the capital, what structure it will take and where it will be located.
“It’s not an easy sort of task,” he said.
Zoellick spoke at the end of a five-day trip to India, during which he met with top government officials and visited projects supported by the World Bank. He said the country needs to undergo serious structural reform if it wants to unlock its “huge potential.”