The World Trade Organization (WTO) is in need of significant reforms if it is to remain relevant, said Saudi Arabia’s nominee to the role of director-general in a press conference Friday.
Mohammad al-Tuwaijri is one of eight candidates who have been appointed by various member-states of the WTO.
The process to pick a new director-general began earlier this year after incumbent Roberto Azevedo said he would leave the position a year early. Press conferences are currently being held with each of the candidates for WTO members to understand each candidate and their agenda before a final decision on director-general will be taken.
“I fully realize the significant demand at this point of time for a fully dedicated director-general for the WTO … who should bring in a very solid necessary reform agenda, based on evidence, based on track record and on actual delivery of mandates,” al-Tuwaijri said during the press conference.
The next WTO chief will take the position during a difficult time for the organization. Ongoing trade disputes between US and China, and rising protectionism, a dynamic that the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated, have brought the efficacy of the WTO into question.
“There has been some good successes in the past, however the world has changed and has changed significantly and particularly in the last few years,” al-Tuwaijri said.
Al-Tuwaijri noted several times the importance of establishing a set of performance indicators for the role of director-general to ensure that members can see progress being made by the WTO.
“I think the director-general in his mandate for the next few years should focus on delivery, should focus on process enhancement, should focus on building key performance indicators and design those so actually members can see progress and measure progress and see why we are not moving,” he said.
Speaking of his own experience in the private sector, al-Tuwaijri noted that this is a situation to which he is familiar, having spent 25 years working in some of the biggest banks in the world.
Saudi Vision 2030 experience
In addition, al-Tuwaijri also recently served as Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Economy and Planning between 2016 and 2020, where he oversaw part of the Kingdom’s ambitious economic transformation under the umbrella of the Vision 2030 plan.
His experience in working with Vision 2030, which aims to wean Saudi Arabia off oil, transform the economy, and prepare the Kingdom for a post-hydrocarbon age, makes him an ideal candidate for the head of the WTO while it is in need of reform, al-Tuwaijri explained.
“I was part of probably part of the biggest reforms that took place in recent history, a major transformation with the essence around economic diversification, job creation, and the private sector, very much the original goals of the WTO,” he said.
“I can bring from that experience hot from the oven to the WTO … the management and leadership are very similar,” al-Tuwaijri explained.
The coronavirus pandemic has created an unprecendented global economic slowdown, likely causing the biggest recession in nearly a century. Al-Tuwaijri sees this as an opportunity for the WTO, however, and a chance to reform the organization into something more successful.
“If we think about now we have the uncertainty of COVID-19, so why not rethink some of the rules, some of the processes, introduce some new ideas to the members, get this ship moving,” he said.
All of the director-general nominees will have concluded their press conferences on Friday, after which various bodies within the WTO will get together to consult with the WTO’s members and assess their preferred candidate. Eventually, the last candidate remaining from this process will become the director-general. This is the longest part of the process, but will last no more than two months, according to the WTO’s website.
“The director-general should come in as a facilitator, as a compass, if the organization is drifting away from its true north … We need to dig deep and find out what the root causes are of this drift and how can the members be aware of these root causes, and how can we in the future, which is my key point, have key performance indicators to ensure the organization doesn’t drift again,” al-Tuwaijri concluded.