World Trade Organization

British WTO candidate woos Europe with job promise

Agence France-Presse

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British WTO candidate woos Europe with job promise

Britain's first post-Brexit international trade secretary Liam Fox attends a press conference in Geneva on July 17, 2020, following his hearing as part of the application process to head the World Trade Organization. - The eight candidates battling to become the next head of the beleaguered World Trade Organization make their pitches this week, with three days of auditions started on July 15, 2020. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)


Britain's Liam Fox, among the 5 remaining in the race to head the World Trade Organization, says he would appoint a European as his main advisor if he wins

A Briton seeking to lead the World Trade Organization vowed on Thursday, October 1, to hand a top WTO post to a European, even though lingering Brexit resentment is likely to deny him much European Union support.

Liam Fox, Britain’s first post-Brexit international trade secretary and 1 of 5 candidates remaining in the race to head the WTO, told reporters that if he wins he would appoint a European as his main advisor.

“If I become director-general, my chef de cabinet will be a European,” he told a virtual briefing.

This, he said, was because if he, as a European, were to win, Europe would automatically lose 1 of the 4 deputy director-general positions that it currently holds due to regional balance requirements.

He stressed the need to ensure an “inclusive” cabinet at the top of the global trade body, adding that “we need to be clear from the outset that we will have to act as a global team if we are to deal with some of the very profound issues that face us today.”

Fox meanwhile acknowledged that some EU countries were unlikely to back a pro-Brexit British candidate amid continued anger over Britain’s decision to leave the bloc.

“For some, the issue of Brexit is hugely important, with a very small number believing that the United Kingdom should be punished for leaving the EU by not getting backing for any international job,” he said.

The EU, which on Thursday launched legal proceedings in response to the British government’s attempt to overturn parts of the Brexit withdrawal agreement, has yet to say who it backs in the WTO race.

Five become two

Besides Fox, there is one other man, Mohammad al-Tuwaijri of Saudi Arabia, and 3 women – Amina Mohamed of Kenya, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria, and Yoo Myung-hee of South Korea – still in the running.

But next week, the initial pool of 8 candidates to replace Roberto Azevedo, who stepped down as the WTO director-general last month a year ahead of schedule, will be whittled down again, with just 2 remaining after a second elimination round.

It remains unclear whether the WTO members will ultimately agree on another leader from Europe.

There is no requirement for a regional rotation of the WTO chief position.

But there have been calls for an African to finally get a shot at running the organization, which has counted 3 director-generals from Europe, and 1 each from Oceania, Asia, and South America since its creation in 1995.

The WTO aims to select a winner in November, but some have voiced fear that increasing politicization of the WTO, which relies on consensus to reach decisions, could draw out the process.

Whoever is handed the job in the end will be taking over an organization mired in multiple crises, and struggling to help members navigate a severe global economic slump triggered by the coronavirus pandemic. –

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