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‘If the WTO chief doesn’t make the case for free trade - who will?’ - candidate Liam Fox

UK candidate Liam Fox at the headquarters of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva, July 17, 2020. (KEYSTONE/Salvatore Di Nolfi)

Increasing protectionism fuelled by the world’s richest countries, and exacerbated by the Covid-19 crisis, is “morally wrong” and poses a dangerous threat to global security, Liam Fox, the UK’s candidate to lead the World Trade Organization said. 

Speaking to reporters this week, the UK’s former international trade secretary, citing WTO figures, said import-restrictive measures by G20 countries had increased by 10 per cent over the last decade, raising barriers to access for the world’s smaller economies.

“In other words there is a real danger that the world’s richest countries are now saying we have done very well in an open trading system, we are going to pull up the ladder behind us,” he said. “I think that is dangerous in terms of security, I think it morally wrong in terms of opportunity, and I think it is morally stupid.”

Leadership race heats up: Fox is one of the eight candidates vying to become the next director-general at the WTO. On Monday, the leadership race entered a new phase after the two-month window candidates were given to make their pitches ended, and the selection process began.

Over the course of the next two months, the eight candidates will be whittled down to five, and then two, until the winner is announced. The new chief is chosen by consensus by its 164 member countries - a process unique to the WTO.

A former cabinet minister and Conservative member of parliament since 1992, Fox is counting on his political clout to set him apart from his competitors, arguing that the WTO needs a politician to help resolve problems in the global trading system and within the embattled organization itself.

He has also positioned himself as the most outspoken advocate of free trade, claiming that not enough had been said of the policy - core to the organization’s mission - in the race so far. “If the director-general of the WTO is not going to make the case for free trade - who on the planet is actually going to do so?”

However, Fox faces stiff competition, with many viewing the main frontrunners in the race to be Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Kenya’s Amina Mohamed, who would both be the first female leaders of the organization and the first to be appointed from Africa.

Other candidates include Jesús Seade Kuri from Mexico, Egypt’s Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh, Tudor Ulianovschi from Moldova, Yoo Myung-hee, Republic of Korea, and Mohammad Maziad Al-Tuwaijri, from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

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