Saudi Arabia nominates royal court official for top WTO post

Mohammad Al-Tuwaijri is also a former economy and planning minister with stints at top banks including JP Morgan and HSBC

In this photo provided by the Saudi Press Agency, the new Economy and Planning Minister, Mohammad al-Tuwaijri, is sworn in before King Salman, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Monday, Nov. 6, 2017. The king has sworn in new officials to take over from a powerful prince and former minister believed to be detained in a large-scale sweep that has shocked the country and upended longstanding traditions within the ruling family. (Saudi Press Agency, via AP)

Saudi Arabia nominated Mohammad Al-Tuwaijri, a minister advising the royal court on international and local economic matters, for the director-general post of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Mr Al-Tuwaijri previously served as a minister of economy and planning and is a seasoned banker having worked with the Saudi British Bank, JP Morgan and HSBC. The former Saudi Air Force pilot is a strong advocate of Saudi Vision 2030, the kingdom's economic diversification programme that seeks to reduce the country's reliance on oil.

The WTO, formed in 1995, is an intergovernmental organisation that regulates international trade between nations. The Geneva-based trade body includes 164 member states and Roberto Azevêdo, its current director-general, will step down on August 31.

The new leader will take the helm of the global institution amid a world trade slump induced by Covid-19. World trade volume is estimated to shrink 11.9 per cent this year, as a result of weaker demand for goods and services, as well as tourism, according to the International Monetary Fund. Trade grew 0.9 per cent last year.

The new WTO director-general must revive stalled trade talks and mend ties with the US, which has threatened to leave the organisation and battled other multilateral institutions. President Donald Trump has accused the WTO of "unfair treatment" of the US.

The UK has nominated former international trade secretary Liam Fox as its candidate for the WTO post, while Kenya nominated Amina Mohamed, a former WTO general council chair. Ms Mohamed also served previously as Kenya’s foreign affairs and international trade minister and assistant secretary-general at the UN.

Other candidates include former Egyptian diplomat Hamid Mamdouh, Mexico’s former WTO deputy director-general Jesus Seade Kuri, Moldova’s former foreign minister Tudor Ulianovschi, Nigeria’s former foreign and finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and South Korea Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee.

The nomination period closed on July 8. Mr Azevêdo’s early departure has forced WTO’s member states to come up with a successor in just three months instead of the usual nine.

The selection procedure relies on finding consensus, with candidates being eliminated in several rounds. If the general council fails to take a decision by consensus, voting will be allowed as a last resort.

The process to appoint a director-general is overseen by the chair of the general council in consultation with members. The general council chair is assisted in the process by the chairs of the dispute settlement body and the trade policy review body.

The nominated candidates have three months to make themselves known to members and to engage in discussions on pertinent issues facing the WTO. Candidates should have extensive experience in international relations, encompassing economic, trade and/or political experience.

The WTO director-general is appointed for a term of office of four years, and is eligible for reappointment for a further term not exceeding four years.