Saudi pick for WTO chief pledges to restore trust in Geneva-based body

Mohammad Tuwaijri promises 'pragmatic' solutions to rebuild confidence amid trade disputes and Covid-19 crisis

Saudi Arabia's candidate for General Director of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Mohammad Maziad Al-Tuwaijri attends the General Council meeting during the WTO Director General election process, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Geneva, Switzerland July 17, 2020. WTO/Jay Louvion/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. MANDATORY CREDIT.

Saudi Arabia’s nominee to head the World Trade Organisation pledged to restore confidence in the Geneva-based body that has been undermined by a series of ongoing trade disputes.

Mohammad Al Tuwaijri, the kingdom’s former minister of economy and planning, said at a virtual press conference on Sunday that the trade row between the US and China, the world’s two biggest economies, could not be fully resolved overnight and required a series of small steps to bridge the differences in opinion.

Mr Al Tuwaijri is one of eight candidates who appeared before the WTO’s General Council, the decision-making body composed of envoys from the 164 member countries, to make a case for their suitability for the role of director general last week.

He proposed a series of administrative reforms to the WTO as part of his agenda.

“The organisation has to be ready for the 21st century challenges,” he said, pointing to the rise of e-commerce, protectionism and the economic uncertainty caused by the Covid-19 crisis.

Mr Al Tuwaijri said he would bring to the role 28 years of experience in the public and private sectors, during which he was responsible for the kingdom’s national transformation and economic diversification plans.

He said Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, a blueprint to overhaul the economy and reduce its dependence on oil revenue, was relevant to the work of the WTO.

The economic blueprint seeks to transform the kingdom into a trade and logistics hub that connects Asia, Europe and Africa, as well as diversify the economy, create employment and ensure fairness in trade, Mr Al Tuwaijri said.

A decision on the new director general will be made by the WTO General Council by August 31, when the current leader, Roberto Azevedo of Brazil, steps down.