Mohammed Al Tuwaijri
The need for reforms in the WTO today is unprecedented in line with the historic changes faced by the organisation, said Mohammed Al Tuwaijri, Saudi Arabia’s nominee to head WTO. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: The trade dispute between the United States and China, which has effectively weakened the World Trade Organisation (WTO), and threatens to hamper the global economic recovery, cannot be solved overnight but needs small steps to rebuild bilateral confidence, Saudi Arabia’s nominee to head the global agency said on Sunday.

“I am an optimist and believe the WTO is the only party that can tackle such dispute,” Mohammed Al Tuwaijri told Gulf News on Sunday during an online media briefing. “The lessons we have learned from the COVID-19 crisis will be helpful in pushing for a solution. But I don’t expect the dispute can be solved overnight; I would introduce small solutions that will help the two countries bridge their differences,” he explained.

Al Tuwaijri, who served as Economy and Planning Minister from 2016 to 2020 during which he oversaw the kingdom’s Vision 2030 plan and in March this year was appointed an adviser to the royal court, said he was running for the WTO’s Director General post, against 7 other candidates, on a reform agenda.

“The need for reforms in the WTO today is unprecedented in line with the historic changes faced by the organisation,” he said, adding such challenges include the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic and the rise of the electronic trade. “The ultimate challenge is the rising uncertainty in the global economy and trade,” he added, noting that the agency is not really prepared for the 21st century. Therefore, he explained, administrative reforms to make “the WTO a more effective organisation with clear performance indicators is the need of the hour.”

“An organisation with the size and the mandate of WTO needs a system that can help us navigate through these challenges and the extremely volatile conditions to serve the interests of the global trade and the member states.”

The current WTO chief, Brazilian diplomat Roberto Azevedo resigned in May, one year before his second term was to expire. He said he will step down on 31 August. The 64-member organization is expected to choose its new chief by September amid global economic turmoil due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Eight candidates compete for Azevedo’s job from Egypt, Kenya, the Republic of Korea, Mexico, Moldova, Nigeria, the UK and Saudi Arabia. They are Jesús Seade Kuri, the former chief negotiator for Mexico in the creation of the WTO, Egyptian Abdel Hamid Mamdouh, also a former negotiator, Nigerian diplomat Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Moldova’s former Minister of Foreign Affairs Tudor Ulianovschi, Yoo Myung-hee, the Republic of Korea’s first female Trade Minister, Kenya’s former Foreign Affairs and International Trade Minister Amina Mohamed, the former UK Secretary for International Trade Liam Fox, and Al Tuwaijri.

The Saudi former minister is hopeful he will get the job because, he said, “as I bring to the table more than 25 years of rich experience in the private financial sector and the public economic sectors.”

Also, he added, the agency’s goals are compatible with the Kingdom’s global trade objectives and practices. “Saudi Arabia is a balanced trade partner with almost all countries in the world and one of the first countries to apply all the standards and polices required by the WTO. Also, in 2019, during the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan, the kingdom proposed its important WTO reform initiative which is very much needed today by the organisation.”

Geographically, Saudi Arabia is an important link between Europe, Africa, and Asia, “and that is vital for global trade and the work of the WTO,” he noted.

“Nevertheless, I have all the respect for all the other candidates, and I appreciate their experiences. And I hope the result would be in the best interests of the WTO,” he concluded.