Race for WTO Director-General — additional material on H.E. Mohammad Moziad Al-Tuwaijri (Saudi Arabia)

Today I review some other press articles about the candidates to provide additional perspective on important issues or the candidate’s approach to the position of Director-General if selected. Yesterday, I posted material about H.E. Amina C. Mohamed (Kenya), the day before on H.E. Yoo Myung-hee (Republic of Korea), on September 3 on Amb. Tudor Ulianovschi (Modolva), On September 2 on Mr. Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh (Egypt), on September 1 on Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Nigeria) and on August 31 on Dr. Jesus Seade Kuri. See September 5, 2020:  Race for WTO Director-General – additional material on H.E. Amina C. Mohamed (Kenya), https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/09/05/race-for-wto-director-general-additional-material-on-h-e-amina-c-mohamed-kenya/; September 4, 2020:  Race for WTO Director-General – additional material on H.E. Yoo Myung-hee (Republic of Korea), https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/09/04/race-for-wto-director-general-additional-material-on-h-e-yoo-myung-hee-republic-of-korea/; September 3, 2020,   Race for WTO Director-General – additional material on Amb. Tudor Ulianovschi (Moldova), https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/09/03/race-for-wto-director-general-additional-material-on-amb-tudor-ulianovschi-moldova/; September 2, 2020, Race for WTO Director-General – additional material on Mr. Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh (Egypt), https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/09/02/race-for-wto-director-general-additional-material-on-mr-abdel-hamid-mamdouh-egypt/; September 1, 2020, Race for WTO Director-General – additional material on Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Nigeria), https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/09/01/race-for-wto-director-general-additional-material-on-dr-ngozi-okonjo-iweala-nigeria/; August 31, 2020, Race for WTO Director-General – additional material on Dr. Jesus Seade Kuri (Mexico), https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/08/31/race-for-wto-director-general-additional-material-on-dr-jesus-seade-kuri-mexico/.

There is no intention on my part to be exhaustive, and the research has been limited to press pieces or videos in English. Rather the intention is to identify information not addressed in my earlier posts that may be of interest to readers.

Today’s post looks at a few articles featuring H.E. Mohammad Moziad Al-Tuwaijri from Saudi Arabia, the seventh candidate nominated.

  1. Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online, August 17, 2020, Saudi DG candidate aims to quantify and deliver outcomes at the WTO, https://insidetrade.com/daily-news/saudi-dg-candidate-aims-quantify-and-deliver-outcomes-wto.

Inside U.S. Trade conducted interviews with each of the eight candidates for the Director-General position. The publication’s write-up of its interview with Minister Al-Tuwaijri was posted on August 17th. As reviewed in earlier posts, Minister Al-Tuwaijri brings a business approach to the position of Director-General if selected.

“‘My delivery-oriented approach is all about regaining trust and regaining confidence in the organization. And I am a great believer that if that’s the case, I think the big powers – the big countries – will go back to negotiation,’ he told Inside U.S. Trade in an interview on Monday.”

His first priority if selected as the Director-General would be to do a review of the challenges the WTO faces to identify priorities for addressing by the Members, but noted Members viewed fixing the dispute settlement system and bringing life back to the negotiating function as two broad agenda issues.

Minister Al-Tuwaijri views an approach that includes developing information that shows the effects of particular policies or actions on Members as critical to helping solve various problems including how special and differential treatment is applied and various Chinese practices that are causes of the U.S.-China tensions.

2.  Chatham House, August 17, 2020, In Conversation with H.E. Mohammad Maziad Al-Tuwaijri, https://www.chathamhouse.org/file/conversation-he-mohammad-maziad-al-tuwaijri.

Chatham House has done a series of webinars with each of the candidates vying for the WTO Director-General position. On August 17, Chatham House featured Minister Al-Tuwaijri of Saudi Arabia. What follows are my notes on some of the questions asked and Minister Al-Tuwaijri’s responses.

Q:  What is your overarching philosophy of international trade and your vision for the WTO as a 21st century organization?

A:  Recovery from COVID-19 will be different for each country and each region.  Minister Al-Tuwaijri has reviewed the stimulus programs put in place by various governments to cushion the economic effects of addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, and he designed the stimulus plan for Saudi Arabia. There are questions of whether the stimulus provided will be sufficient and how quickly economies will rebound.  The economic uncertainty and unpredictability is harmful to business activity and investment.  Looking at the WTO, there is no question that reform is needed.  But the question is what type of reform is needed.  Another question is what type of candidate is needed (an insider or someone with a fresh set of eyes).  Minister Al-Tuwaijri views himself as the right candidate.  The WTO faces many challenges. Digital trade is a game changer, but there are currently no WTO rules.  The WTO has accomplished relatively little in its first 25 years.  The WTO faces challenges on all three pillars — negotiations, disputes, and notifications and transparency.  There are increased tensions geopolitically.  The WTO must in Minister Al-Tuwaijri’s view go back to its core principles.  In G20 one of the objectives has been to gather political will of the G20 countries to support reform at the WTO. 

Q:  What are the three most important challenges that the WTO faces?

A:  For Minister Al-Tuwaijri, the three pillars of the WTO — negotiations, transparency, disputes — are interconnected.  However, the root cause of the WTO current situation is the failure of the negotiating function to provide results.  If the negotiating process can be improved, WTO Members can regain trust. As Director-General, Minister Al-Tuwaijri would start a process where the WTO can identify early warning signs that negotiations are not proceeding.  On transparency, the WTO needs to understand why countries are not as transparent as required by the WTO.  If the reason is technical, such as lack of infrastructure in certain Members, then the WTO need to address through technical assistance.  If the issue is really political, the Director-General needs to do outreach to capitals. Similarly, if rules need to be modified, the WTO needs to address that as well.  Minister Al-Tuwaijri believes the next Director-General needs to ask the tough questions to identify the root causes of issues before the WTO Members try to fix the issues.  The next Director-General can facilitate the WTO Members making some successes to show the organization can move forward and be relevant.  But unless the WTO adopts an holistic approach to the needs and causes, the WTO will be back to the same dysfunctional state in the future.

Q:  What would you do in the first 100 days?  You have mentioned creating a delivery unit in the Director-General’s office and shifting to annual Ministerials. Are these some of the actions you would take in the first 100 days?

A:  In Minister Al-Tuwaijri’s view, the intensity of trade-relevant events is happening frequently which requires more frequent Ministerial meetings.  But having more meetings is not an end in itself. The key is how to prepare for the meetings, how to make the meetings more impactful.  Minister Al-Tuwaijri would want to include voices of the business community within the Ministerial.  In his first 100 days as Director-General, Minister Al-Tuwaijri would engage with all members to understand their views on issues. For example, he would look at ideas around the appellate body impasse (Amb. Walker’s proposal, the MPIA) and discuss why these proposals haven’t resolved the impasse.  He would complete the deep dive into all matters pending before the WTO and potential reform issues and tracking the root causes. This would be important to do in the first 100 days.

Q:  On the politics of trade, re US and China, the U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has said that it is important for the next Director-General to understand that large state-run economies aren’t adequately disciplined under existing WTO rules. Do you agree?

A:  Both the United States and China are important members of the WTO.  Minister Al-Tuwaijri was pleased to see that the two countries were able to reach a Phase 1 agreement which shows they can negotiate some of their differences.  The WTO needs both countries to go back to negotiations.  The WTO is a Member-driven organization, so what gets negotiated is a matter of Members agreeing.  It is clear that resolving the tensions between the two Members matters to businesses in both countries.  If selected as the next Director-General, Minister Al-Tuwaijri would encourage both countries to go back to negotiations within the WTO.

Q:  How do you plan to fold trade sustainable development goals (SDGs) into WTO reform program?

A:  Minister Al-Tuwaijri indicated that he was privileged to implement the SDGs in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  He believes it would be helpful to have some unified definitions and fresh thoughts on the SDG issues.  There is ongoing work within the WTO on some of the SDGs, and many members are working on the issues.  Minister Al-Tuwaijri believes that addressing SDGs in the WTO, like many other issues, goes to how do Members implement objectives and measure progress.  Only way that progress was made in Saudi Arabia was to map SDGs and the Saudi 2030 program and connect the dots. Minister Al-Tuwaijri would look forward to working with WTO Members to address SDGs as appropriate in the WTO reform program.

Q:  on deglobalization, what are best steps DG can take to address the problem?  With export restriction measures and subsidy measures from Pandemic response, does this make WTO more relevant?

A:  Minister Al-Tuwaijri understands nations responding to the shock of the COVID-19 pandemic with panic and restrictive measures.  He believes that the pandemic provides the WTO membership a huge opportunity.  Every crisis teaches us something.  The pandemic provides an opportunity for the WTO to be more relevant.  The question is how.  Minister Al-Tuwaijri belives that the WTO needs to do an impact analysis of all the actions taken.  As Director-General, he would undertake that analysis.  Minister Al-Tuwaijri stated that the WTO is still needed.  He has seen that in the G20 process where the G20 countries have talked about the need for reform in the WTO and the G20 support for reform.  It is important to evaluate whether the reform ideas are doable and doable in a timely manner. Minister Al-Tuwaijri believes that there are many issues that can be resolved that can bring back trust and confidence in the organization. 


Each candidate has been very busy these last several months meeting with WTO Members both in Geneva and in capital (whether in person or virtually), talking to the media, doing events with academia and think tanks and others. The above additional materials on Minister Al-Tuwaijri are a small sample of what is available online. The excerpts or summaries from the various publications have largely been limited to some of the key issues my previous posts have examined (appellate body reform, industrial subsidies, etc.) or discussions of other issues of potential interest.

Future posts will look at additional materials for the last candidate, The Rt Hon Dr. Liam Fox MP (United Kingdom).

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