WTO's 'march to irrelevance' must stop, Fox argues

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The World Trade Organization needs to continue, but in a different way, Liam Fox has said.

One of the candidates for the position of director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO) has argued that the body is in need of a serious overhaul if it is to continue to be relevant.

Dr Liam Fox, former international trade secretary for the UK, said in an editorial piece for City AM that the WTO has "serious problems".

He blamed protectionism, a lack of respect for its rules and the loss of the Appellate Body as the major reasons behind its current failure.

In addition, Dr Fox pointed out that the pandemic has made matters worse, with many countries struggling to protect their own interests and restricting the global trade of goods as a result.

"The organization is on the precipice," he commented.

However, despite this criticism, Dr Fox said he does not believe the WTO is at the end of its 25-year run. Instead, he highlighted its technical skills, human resources and institutional memory as major plus points and insisted: "The importance of an effectively run WTO cannot be underestimated."

Perhaps therein lies the key, as Dr Fox went on to outline how he thinks the WTO may need to be reformed if it is to survive any further into the 21st century.

He highlighted trust and cooperation as key tools going forward, particularly when it comes to delivering food and medicine around the world to beat coronavirus.

Another of his targets was export restrictions, which the former minister warned should only be short-term measures if they are to avoid seriously disrupting global trade.

"The WTO has done a good job in highlighting specific problems as they arise. The job for the next DG [director-general] will be to translate into action to solve them. Otherwise the organisation's march towards irrelevance will continue," Dr Fox concluded.

Last week saw the conclusion of the second phase of the selection process for the director-general position, during which the eight candidates - from Egypt, Kenya, the Republic of Korea, Mexico, Moldova, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and the UK - declared their intentions and priorities to members.

Next, the number of candidates will be reduced to five before being finally whittled down to two.

It is expected that a decision will be made by November 7th 2020, although this may be delayed by the US General Election.