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Saudi WTO candidate wants practical pilot at the controls

  • Christophe Vogt

    Agence France-Presse

Geneva, Switzerland   /   Thu, September 17, 2020   /   07:56 am
Saudi WTO candidate wants practical pilot at the controls A red pedestrian trafic light is seen next to the entrance of the headquarters of the World Trade Organization (WTO) on Dec.10, 2019 in Geneva.The World Trade Organization has ground to a halt and needs a pragmatic new director-general to drive through reforms, the Saudi candidate for the job said Wednesday. (AFP/ Fabrice COFFRINI)

The World Trade Organization has ground to a halt and needs a pragmatic new director-general to drive through reforms, the Saudi candidate for the job said Wednesday.

Mohammad al-Tuwaijri, 53, said the WTO, which was founded in 1995, was due a shake-up.

"Twenty-five years; in my mind, every organization in the world -- regardless of the external environment, which is severe in our case -- must have the fresh restart," he told the Geneva Press Club.

Tuwaijri is one of eight candidates in the running to replace Roberto Azevedo. The Brazilian career diplomat quit the WTO helm at the end of August, a year before his second term was due to expire.

Three candidates will get the chop on Friday as WTO member states narrow down the field.

A former air force pilot who flew more than 30 Gulf War missions, Tuwaijri was a banker who ran JPMorgan's fledgling Saudi Arabia operations before joining HSBC.

The former Saudi economy minister currently advises the kingdom's royal court on economic strategy.

The WTO is in paralysis due to the trade war between the United States and China, US President Donald Trump's mistrust of the global trade body and, according to Tuwaijri, a lack of re-evaluation within the organization itself.

"Hence my approach is around practical leadership," he said.

"We need to really listen to members, but be very impartial, give ideas... gradual progress: we cannot have a switch on, switch off."

 

Game-changer 

He said the WTO had to be reformed to show its members that it could still get things done, particularly by driving through trade negotiations have been blocked up for years.

"It's a crossroads, any way you look at it," Tuwaijri said.

He said the COVID-19 crisis would change world trade and the global economy, making it "a window of opportunity to bring back the multilateral trading system" and therefore make the WTO relevant again.

However, he said the moment would be short-lived and if it is missed, "we will have to deal with a much worse scenario in the years to come".

Tuwaijri said he hoped the next WTO chief would be chosen on practicality, the ability to open doors, agility, dynamics and delivery.

"My ultimate wish is for the organization to really have the right person for the next four years, because it's going to be a game-changer," he said.

Rather than elections, the WTO selects its director-general through consensus-building.

Nominations closed on July 8 and the five male and three female candidates have been busy making their pitch to member states.

The eight are set to be reduced to five on Friday, with a further cull to three set to take place in October and a final decision likely in November.

Tuwaijri is up against Liam Fox (Britain); Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh (Egypt); Amina Mohamed (Kenya); Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Nigeria); Jesus Seade (Mexico); Tudor Ulianovschi (Moldova) and Yoo Myung-hee (South Korea).