Race for WTO Director-General — additional material on The Rt Hon Dr. Liam Fox MP (United Kingdom)

The two month period for candidates for the position of Director-General of the World Trade Organization to make themselves known to the WTO Members ends today, September 7, 2020. The Chairman of the General Council along with the Chairs of the Dispute Settlement Body and Trade Policy Review Body will now start the process of holding “confessionals” with WTO Members to receive in confidence the four candidates whom each Member believes could generate consensus among the membership as part of the first round of reducing the candidates from eight to five. Two other rounds will follow to reduce the candidates from five to two and then from two to one.

Today I review some other press articles about the candidate from the United Kingdom to provide additional perspective on important issues or the candidate’s approach to the position of Director-General if selected. The other seven candidates were reviewed previously. Yesterday, I posted material about H.E. Mohammad Moziad Al-Tuwaijri (Saudi Arabia), the day before on H.E. Amina C. Mohamed (Kenya), on September 4 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 6, 2020, Race for WTO Director-General – additional material on H.E. Mohammad Moziad Al-Tuwaijri (Saudi Arabia), https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/09/06/race-for-wto-director-general-additional-material-on-h-e-mohammad-moziad-al-tuwaijri-saudi-arabia/; 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.

As noted above, today’s post looks at a few articles featuring The Rt Hon Dr. Liam Fox MP from the United Kingdom, the eighth and final candidate nominated for the position of Director-General.

  1. The Asean Post, September 5, 2020, Pandemic Is ‘Kiss of Death’ For Managed Trade, https://theaseanpost.com/article/pandemic-kiss-death-managed-trade.

“The coronavirus pandemic has heaped pressure on the troubled World Trade Organization (WTO), a WTO leadership candidate said, warning the crisis could spell the end of rules-based international trade altogether.

“Liam Fox, Britain’s first post-Brexit international trade secretary and one of eight candidates vying to become the WTO’s next director-general (DG), voiced concern that countries might turn their backs on its multilateral trading model.

“‘The reaction of some countries to the COVID emergency will be to seek solace in protectionism and to believe that they will get more resilience by … closing themselves off, if you like, from the global economy,’ he said Thursday in an interview.

“‘Exactly the opposite I believe is true,’ he explained during a conversation using the video link Zoom, insisting that countries will find more security by opening up and ensuring diversity of supply.

“‘For the rules-based trading system, COVID could be the kiss of life if we embrace the right policies – or the kiss of death if we don’t.'”

2. Government of the United Kingdom, Department for International Trade, 19 August 2020, Liam Fox pledges half his team will be women if he is the WTO DG, https://www.gov.uk/government/news/liam-fox-pledges-half-his-team-will-be-women-if-he-is-the-wto-dg.

“Dr Liam Fox has pledged that women will make up at least half of his senior leadership team if he is appointed the next Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

“The UK has nominated former International Trade Secretary Dr Fox to be a candidate to replace current Director General Roberto Azevedo who stepped down this month after seven years.

“Dr Fox, the only elected politician in the running for the role, believes changes need to be made to attract more women into senior trade roles at the WTO. He states:

  • “Women’s economic empowerment through trade can only continue with widespread commitment to advancing the WTO and rules-based trading systems
  • “There is a need for the WTO to embrace the ‘talents, innovation and creativity’ of women to ensure it can lift another one billion people out of poverty
  • “Thirty years of progress is under threat from rising levels of unilateral actions and protectionism and those bearing the economic impact will disproportionately be women

“Dr Fox believes securing the input of women at a senior level at the WTO will help reduce the many barriers women face in accessing trading opportunities.

He said:

“‘As someone who trained and practised as a medical doctor I was used to half, and sometimes more, of my colleagues being female. But, despite real progress being made, women continue to face disproportionate barriers in accessing trading opportunities and markets due to discriminatory attitudes, poor conditions and harassment as well as unequal access to inputs such as credit and land.’

“‘And, as we look around us at the rising levels of unilateral actions and protectionism, we know that the remarkable achievement of the last three decades is under threat and that those bearing the brunt will be women.’

“Dr Fox believes the WTO and rules-based trading systems have created opportunities for women in both developed and developing countries which will be key to helping the global economy recover from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

“In 2016, McKinsey estimated that creating more opportunities for women to work, including in export-led sectors, could add $12 trillion to the global economy by 2025.

“Dr Fox said:

“‘What could be more counterproductive than failing to utilize the talents, innovation and creativity of half the planet’s population? Women’s economic empowerment through trade can and has played a key role in creating political stability and so the conditions for wider economic progress. This matters to all of us, wherever we are.’

“Currently, neither the Director General nor any of the four Deputy Director Generals at the WTO are female. The latest diversity breakdown of the WTO secretariat shows that of the 24 staff members in the most senior grades, only five were female.

Dr Fox said:

“‘To attract more women into the architecture of trade, we need to make changes at all levels.’

“‘We need more input for women, by women if the WTO is to play its part in taking another one billion people out of extreme poverty. That is why, if I am successful in my candidacy, women will account for at least half of my senior leadership team.'”

3. Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online, September 2, 2020, Fox: Congress should leverage TPA renewal to resolve WTO appellate impasse, https://insidetrade.com/trade/fox-congress-should-leverage-tpa-renewal-resolve-wto-appellate-impasse.

The article reviews statements by Dr. Fox that his political thinking would identify outreach to the U.S. Congress after the upcoming election as a way to make progress in resolving the impasse on the WTO’s Appellate Body. Dr. Fox opines that the renewal of trade promotion authority (“TPA”) in the front half of 2021 gives Congress significant say on trade matters which could be used to find solutions on the Appellate Body impasse.

4.  Chatham House, 10 August 2020, In Conversation with The Rt Hon Dr Liam Fox MP: Candidate for Director-General of the World Trade Organization, https://www.chathamhouse.org/event/conversation-rt-hon-dr-liam-fox-mp-candidate-director-general-world-trade-organization.

Chatham House has conducted interviews with each of the candidates for Director-General. The session with Dr. Fox was held on August 10, 2020 and was on the record. My notes of some of the questions asked and of Dr. Fox’s responses are contained below.

Q:  You are a free trader.  Could you share your philosophy about international trade?  What is your vision of trade?

A:  One of the great benefits of international trade is its contribution to moving one billion people out of poverty in a generation, one of the greatest accomplishment in history.  We live in a very interdependent and interconnected world.  Trade is not an end in itself but a means to spread prosperity around the world which leads to security.  If countries try to block trade, there are consequences such as mass migration of peoples.

Q:  How do you deal with the view that many people in developed world feel that trade has undermined their prosperity?

A:  Such views flow from a failure to understand the benefits that come from free and open trade.  In developed countries we take benefits of trade for granted and simply look at the downside costs.  If you consider benefits to consumers from trade, the benefits include a much broader selection of goods and services at lower prices.  Countries always have the trade off between trade liberalization and protectionism.  Those seeking protection may have better lobbyists, but they don’t have better products.  Typically trade ministers don’t mention consumers at all when discussing trade policies.  Yet that is one of the basic advantages of trade – greater choice, lower prices.

Q:  What are the top three challenges you would face if selected as the next Director-General?

A: Dr. Fox views there are different types of issues facing the WTO.  The most important issue in his view is to get Members to reconnect with the vision of a shared endeavor.  One of the dangers of undermining the multilateral system is the resulting free-for-all that would result among countries which will hurt most countries including major countries like the United Kingdom and Germany.  Secondly, there are a host of practical issues – restoring the appellate body would be one. Without the ability to enforce rights and obligations, the WTO is denying Members one of the value added elements of membership. Other practical issues include dealing with and recovery from the COVID crisis and how we treat our members.  At the time of the webinar with Chatham House, Dr. Fox had done 72 bilaterals with Members. There is a common view that small members who are a nuisance get listened to as do the large members. However, the rest of the 164 Members don’t feel that they do get listened to. This is a big problem for the WTO.  For the organization to function well, the Members need trust among themselves. For Member who don’t feel that their views are being listened to, the trust breaks down.

Q:  Members will be much more involved in their own economies post-COVID.  What can WTO do to get ahead of this situation?

A:  Governments will be much more concerned with domestic issues in the post-COVID world.  The focus on domestic needs will potentially lead to more protectionism, greater subsidies and other trade distorting measures. The key point for Members and the WTO is the resilience of the multilateral system.  What we have learned during the COVID pandemic is that the way we have organized global value chains has shifted from a structure of resilience to one of efficiency. The world will likely get some rebalancing of global value chains to improve resilience. The role of the WTO is to make the case openly and constructively that resilience is to be found in greater diversity of supply, not from massive onshoring or attempting to go it alone.  If a country onshores everything, the country potentially will be more vulnerable in another crisis.  During the COVID pandemic, one can see many elements of global trade that have been disrupted.  Vessels ended up in the far east disrupting timing of the movement of goods. With far fewer passenger flights, there has been less air cargo which has raised costs. The lock down in countries has led to less government work on various trade related ares (e.g., certifications).  Yet all of these problems we have seen during the pandemic are not technical in nature but rather political.  That is the reason Dr. Fox believes that the next Director-General of the WTO needs to have a political background.  Many issues will be sorted out in capitals based on political will and not in technical discussions in Geneva.

Q:  How would you engage the big players, like the U.S., China and the EU?

A:  Engaging the major players is about getting the political commitment from them to wok within the system.  What their voters want is a successful economy. In Dr. Fox’s view, a successful economy is enhanced by open trade.  In terms of the US-China dispute, typically disputes end when costs become too great for the disputants to sustain.  In a global environment like existed in 2018 and much of 2019 where growth was occurring, costs may have been sustainable by the U.S. and China.  Dr. Fox believes that the costs are less likely to be sustainable in the post-COVID world.  If true, one would expect there would be increased internal pressures to come to a compromise in the two countries.

Q:  UNCTAD has confirmed a major contraction of trade during the pandemic. What is most important for the WTO to do to facilitate dismantling trade barriers?

A:  The first task for the WTO and the next Director-General is to deal with the COVID export-restriction measures.  In Dr. Fox’s view, nothing is as permanent as temporary measures entered during a crisis.  The WTO needs to improve notifications (export restrictions or other barriers). Dr. Fox is worried how existing export barriers on medical goods may apply to vaccines when they are developed.  Moreover, many countries are dependent on open trade to avoid starvation.  Must understand of where we differ from the end of the financial crisis.  During the financial crisis only 0.7% of G20 trade was subject to trade restrictions. In 2018 more than 10% of G20 trade was covered by trade restrictions.  This change is a major problem. The G20 countries have to lead by example in terms of eliminating trade restrictions.  Getting an understanding that we are in a bad place and likely to worsen is important.  We cannot have business as usual.

Q: As the next Director-General, if selected, would you try to pick a particular sector (e.g., digital trade) to make progress?

A:  Dr. Fox believes that the next Director-General needs to look at connected problems – trade crisis, COVID crisis and environmental crisis — and see where the crises intersect.  Fisheries subsidies is all about sustainability.  The WTO needs to get NGOs and the young people who are concerned to put pressure on their governments.  As stated before, it is not just what happens in Geneva that is important but what happens in capitals.  An Environmental Goods Agreement is another potentially important issue.

Q:  The EU has been talking about a border carbon tax/tariff.  Where should WTO stand on carbon border adjustment mechanisms?

A:  This is going to be a big issue for the WTO.  For developed countries, a price should be paid to achieve reduced carbon levels.  The difficulty will come in the concept of a green subsidy.  If the subsidy becomes distortive in areas like agriculture, that will be problematic for many Members.  Then again the question of a carbon border adjustment mechanism is a political issue.  If we want to see environmental objectives met there will be a price to pay.


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 Dr. Fox 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.

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