World Trade Organization

Saudi WTO candidate wants practical pilot at the controls

Agence France-Presse

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Saudi WTO candidate wants practical pilot at the controls

Former Saudi economy minister Mohammad al-Tuwaijri attends a press conference in Geneva, Switzerland, on July 17, 2020. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)


The World Trade Organization must be reformed to show its members that it could still get things done, says Mohammad al-Tuwaijri, a candidate for WTO director-general

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has ground to a halt and needs a pragmatic new director-general to drive through reforms, the Saudi candidate for the job said on Wednesday, September 16.

Mohammad al-Tuwaijri, 53, said the WTO, which was founded in 1995, was due for 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 1 of 8 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, September 18, 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 reevaluation 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 4 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 5 male and 3 female candidates have been busy making their pitch to member states.

The 8 are set to be reduced to 5 on Friday, with a further cull to 3 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). –

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