Covid is no excuse for trade battle, warns WTO hopeful
COVID-19 has ushered in an “excuse culture” in global trade, according to Saudi Arabia’s candidate to lead the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
Mohammad al-Tuwaijri, one of eight nominees to replace Roberto Azevedo as the Geneva-based body’s directorgeneral, said: “People want to protect their citizens, to protect their economies. [The pandemic] can be used as an excuse to put protectionism on the table to do things outside the WTO.
“We can change that if we … use Covid-19 as an opportunity to reassess how the organisation will work in the future.”
Governments have pumped trillions of dollars into their economies to keep them afloat post-Covid, igniting tensions about state aid. Meanwhile, WTO data shows that from October to May, member states introduced 165 measures to restrict flows of goods – the majority linked to the pandemic.
Mr Tuwaijri said his experience as the Saudi economy minister during “one of the most ambitious transformations in recent history” including “empowering women and the private sector” made him the best candidate to reform the WTO.
He added that a Saudi director-general would be well positioned to act as a bridge between member nations given the country’s “very neutral relationships with the rest of the world”, acknowledging that he would have a “major role” to play in resolving the US-China trade war.
Donald Trump, the US president, cancelled talks scheduled for tomorrow between Washington and Beijing about the future of their phase one trade deal, signed in January, blaming China for the spread of the virus.
Other contenders to become director-general when Mr Azevedo leaves next month include the former international trade secretary Liam Fox, Britain’s candidate.
The favourites are Ngozi OkonjoIweala, ex-Nigerian finance minister; and Amina Mohamed, the Kenyan culture secretary.