U.S. nominee for top World Bank job gets positive reviews at G20 meeting
By David Lawder and Christian Kraemer
BENGALURU (Reuters) - The U.S. nominee to lead the World Bank, ex-Mastercard Chief Executive Ajay Banga, gained traction with leading members on Friday, a sign that he will likely have a smooth ride to confirmation by the global lender's executive board.
The finance ministers of France and Germany gave positive reviews to Banga, nominated on Thursday by U.S. President Joe Biden as a surprise choice to lead the World Bank's transformation to fight climate change and other global challenges.
"I think that we have a very good candidate for the World Bank," French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said of Banga during a news conference at the G20 finance leaders meeting in India.
"I look forward to meeting the candidate to give a final response to this candidacy. But I think he's a very good one."
German Finance Minister Christian Lindner said that Banga's nomination was a "very remarkable" proposal because his private-sector experience would be potentially helpful in mobilizing private investment in the fight against climate change and for development projects.
Lindner said Germany would follow the nomination with "great attention" and expressed "sympathy" for the U.S. proposal.
The comments marked a turnabout from Tuesday, when Germany's international development minister, Svenja Schulze, who represents a different party in Germany's coalition government, said the next World Bank chief should be a woman.
The G20 ministers meeting is being held on the outskirts of the Indian tech hub city of Bengaluru.
India's finance ministry has not made an official comment on the nomination of Banga, an Indian-born U.S. citizen, which played prominently in Indian media on Friday.
But the government was expected to support Banga, Krishnamurthy Subramanian, India's executive director at the International Monetary Fund, told Reuters in Washington.
Subramanian, the former top economic adviser to the Indian government, called the nomination "an elegant solution."
'UNIQUE SET OF SKILLS'
The United States, the lender's dominant shareholder, has chosen every World Bank president since the founding of the institution at the end of World War Two.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said she did not know whether there would be other nominees for the job, but said Washington moved quickly with a well qualified candidate to ensure that tradition would continue.
"... we've tried to find a nominee who was really well qualified and brings a unique set of skills to the job that we think will be attractive," she said.
Other countries have until March 29 to nominate an alternative candidate and the World Bank's board intends to announce a choice by early May.
But with the United States and European countries supporting Banga, along with some key emerging markets, a challenger would have almost no chance of succeeding and would represent a largely symbolic effort to protest what is seen by many countries and stakeholders as a non-transparent selection process stacked for too long in Washington's favour.
Many developing countries understood the rapid nomination by the United States as a clear signal not to nominate candidates of their own, said one source familiar briefed on the matter.
Yellen told reporters that Banga has "the right leadership and management skills, experience in emerging markets, and financial expertise" to lead the World Bank and reform it to boost lending on climate change, while maintaining its core anti-poverty mission.
Banga's nomination won praise from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the world's largest trade association, calling him "the right choice in steering (the bank) to greater impact, efficiency and agility."
World Bank staff are bracing for Banga to make some management changes at the bank, emboldened by Yellen's repeated calls for "bolder and more imaginative" action by the bank, two bank sources told Reuters.
Banga also won an endorsement from U.S. Representative Patrick McHenry, the Republican chairman of the House of Representatives Financial Services Committee and a harsh critic of Biden's climate agenda.
Banga's "considerable experience in managing international companies and driving investment to developing countries is what the Bank needs at such a precarious time for the global economy," McHenry said in a statement.
(Reporting by David Lawder and Christian Kraemer; Additonal reporting by Shivangi Archarya and Andrea Shalal; Editing by Frances Kerry, Paul Simao and Marguerita Choy)