Dr Liam Fox gets government nod to stand for WTO leadership as race heats up for top job

Thu 9 Jul 2020
Posted by: William Barns-Graham
Trade News

liam fox

The government yesterday announced its decision to nominate former trade minister Dr Liam Fox as the UK candidate for the director general position at the World Trade Organisation.

The UK’s ambassador to the WTO, Julian Braithwaite, delivered a letter from the Prime Minister to the global trade body in Geneva, calling Fox a “passionate advocate of multilateralism” with “detailed knowledge of the global trading system”.

Former Labour cabinet minister, Peter Mandelson, had also been in the running for the UK’s nomination. The Financial Times reported yesterday (08 July) that the government opted for Dr Fox on account of his being a ‘Brexiteer’.

The current incumbent, Brazilian former diplomat Roberto Azevedo, announced his decision to step down from the role earlier in the summer.

Fantastic Dr Fox

Dr Fox was the UK’s first Secretary of State in charge of the Department for International Trade, which was set up by Theresa May as prime minister in the aftermath of the Brexit vote in 2016.

During his three years in office, DIT:

  • Established a new 'Export Strategy' to boost exports as a percentage of GDP from 30% to 35%
  • Created an overseas network of Trade Commissioners
  • Expanded the support provided by UK Export Finance to a capacity of £50bn
  • Helped UK businesses in 2017/18 export around £30.5bn
  • Began negotiating continuity deals for post-Brexit trade with markets the UK has had preferential arrangements with through the EU

The FT understand he will try to present himself as a candidate who could heal the ongoing rift between Geneva and the White House.

However, Politico report he is an outsider for the position as the EU would be unlikely to support a Brexiteer.

Other candidates

The deadline for nominations passed yesterday and the FT report today (09 July) that it is increasingly likely that an African or woman could win the post.

The paper has Kenya’s Amina Mohamed, a former trade minister who has chaired the WTO’s general council, and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former finance minister and senior World Bank official from Nigeria, as the early front-runners.

Other candidates include:

  • Mohammad Maziad Al-Tuwaijri – a royal court advisor from Saudi Arabia
  • Hamid Mamdouh – a former WTO official from Egypt, a former WTO official
  • Jesús Seade Kuri – a trade negotiator from Mexico
  • Yoo Myung-hee – a trade minister from South Korean
  • Tudor Ulianovschi – a former foreign minister of Moldova

What does the WTO do?

The WTO succeeded the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) as the premier international trade body in 1995.

The first director general of GATT, which was set up after World War II in 1948, was the British ambassador and economist Sir Eric Wyndham White.

The WTO polices adherence to the rules-based trade system agreed to by its members. 

However, the body has been rendered toothless in recent years after the US vetoed appointments to its arbitration board which rules on international trade disputes.

WTO rules

Should the UK leave the EU without a trade deal after the transition period ends on 31 December 2020, trade between the two will be governed by ‘WTO rules’.

These are the ‘schedules’ of tariffs and quotas countries submit to the WTO which govern trade for all countries with whom a country does not have an overriding trade agreement.

The UK submitted its own ‘schedule’ to the WTO earlier in the summer when it announced the UK Global Tariff.