Interview: Egypt's candidate for WTO chief urges revival of trade body's negotiation function

Source: Xinhua| 2020-08-06 00:01:58|Editor: huaxia

by Martina Fuchs

GENEVA, Aug. 5 (Xinhua) -- Eygpt's candidate to lead the World Trade Organization (WTO) has called for the reactivation of the Geneva-based body's negotiation function, saying "the world needs a strong WTO" to help it recover from the coronavirus crisis.

Egypt's Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh, one of the three Africans vying for the top post of director-general at the WTO, told Xinhua that reviving the organization's negotiation function was paramount.

The main function of the WTO, which deals with the global rules of trade between nations, is to ensure that trade flows as smoothly, predictably and freely as possible.

Mamdouh, an attorney at the King & Spalding and former WTO official, previously led trade negotiations in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the forerunner of the WTO.

During the Uruguay Round negotiations, his responsibilities included legal matters relating to the negotiation and drafting of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS).

In his statement to the General Council in July, Mamdouh stressed that the conversation about reforms should not be about "the future of the WTO", but about "the WTO of the future".

The post of WTO chief became vacant after the incumbent WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo announced in May that he would resign from the role on Aug. 31, a year before the official end of his term.

His successor will face an unprecedented set of challenges, such as intensifying global trade tensions, rising protectionism, and a coronavirus-induced dive in global trade.

Mamdouh stressed that the incoming chief would need to be an "honest broker" and play the role of "facilitator".

Asked about how he would negotiate in the trade tensions between the United States and China, he explained that "the trade tensions that we see now to a large extent are due to malfunctions in the system."

"We can reset the system and invite them both to the table and try to separate the trade tensions from the broader geopolitical tensions that we have, and try to look at the trade agenda from the point of view of having a win-win outcome for both of them," he said.

FIXING THE WTO

The WTO forecast in April that global trade in goods would plunge by between 13 percent and 32 percent in 2020 due to the coronavirus, before rebounding by 21 percent to 24 percent in 2021.

The role of the WTO should be both short-term and long-term, Mamdouh said.

"In the short-term, the WTO must play its role as the framework that ensures that every measure by governments in the face of this crisis is consistent with WTO rules, is transparent, and is subject to monitoring," he said.

"In the long run, in order to support economic recovery post-pandemic, the world needs a strong WTO, because a strong WTO guarantees the stability and predictability of trade conditions and this is necessary for trade growth."

Asked about new international cooperation mechanisms, he said, "On the trade front: Fix the WTO, please -- because you need a strong WTO. This is the first, second and third priority. And it is of such urgency that we need to hit the ground running."

The second phase of the selection process in which the candidates "make themselves known to members" will end on Sept. 7. The General Council chairperson will then consult with all WTO members before making the final decision. Enditem

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