Sports CS Amina Mohamed has pledged to win the world’s biggest powers back to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) as a conclusive arbiter of their disputes in her latest campaign pitch for the director-general’s post.
Ms Mohamed said the big powers were ignoring multilateral organisations like the WTO because it no longer resolves their disputes conclusively.
“There is a feeling that some of the rules are not strong enough, that they are lax, that they need to be strengthened,” she said in an interview published by Borderlex, an online news portal that focuses on European trade policy.
“Then we need to look at the rules and strengthen them and negotiate new ones so that they are fit for purpose.” she added.
Restrictive Trade Policies
Ms Mohamed spoke as China and the US, the world’s biggest economies, continued to bicker over mutually restrictive trade policies.
They have held a number of discussions since 2018, without striking a deal. They have introduced retaliatory barriers to each other’s goods, with Chinese tech firms barred from using US technology for allegedly stealing intellectual property.
Ordinarily, WTO should handle such disputes. But even its interventions have not helped.
In November last year, WTO allowed China to impose $3.6 billion sanctions on American goods in retaliation for what Beijing had claimed was unfair duty on its goods to the US.
China had sued at the WTO years earlier, challenging US taxation of more than 40 types of goods. The US responded by criticising the WTO and now largely ignores its organs.
Ms Mohamed is seeking to replace Brazilian Roberto Azevedo, as are Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Nigeria), Abdel-Hamid Mamdou (Egypt), Liam Fox (Britain), Jesús Seade Kuri (Mexico), Tudor Ulianovschi (Moldova), Mohammad Mazia al-Tualjri (Saudi Arabia) and Yoo Myung (South Korea).
“The big users of the system have a very special responsibility. I would persuade them to use the WTO, its rules, its practices and its values to address the differences between them, she said in the interview.
“I would also persuade the big members that their presence is so critical for the system that the rest of the membership would be very happy to support any efforts they make, she said.”
But the WTO faces the challenge of sustaining open trade while conserving the environment. Ms Mohamed said her immediate task would be to convince members to pass a fisheries subsidies agreement which seeks to regulate domestic subsidies on fishing to ensure water bodies are not exploited in areas the subsidies don’t exist.
“If that happens, you tick two boxes immediately – the box for trade, the box for sustainability. It’s good for developing countries, it’s good for developed countries, for the least-developed countries because it would hopefully support small scale and artisanal fishing.
“Then there is reforming the Appellate body. We need to have confidence in the way it functions so that we are willing to go to the WTO’s dispute settlement mechanism to resolve our disputes.”
She spoke as more business lobby groups drawn from the Great Lakes Region member states endorsed her bid.
Through a resolution, the Great Lakes Region (GLR)-Private Sector Forum (PSF) said Ms Mohamed’s candidature gives “an opportunity to drive the reform agenda” on global trade.
“She is a strong advocate of sensible and effective measures to combat poverty and advance the global agenda,” said Richard Ngatia, the lobby’s chairman and current President if the Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Kenyan affiliate in the regional body.
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“Although making an endorsement in a campaign for the position of the Director General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) is a first for the Great Lakes Region Private Sector Forum (GLR-PSF), the Executive Council and its’ membership is pleased to announce its support to Ambassador Amina Mohamed as the Director General of the World Trade Organisation.”
“It is no surprise, then, that business has a preeminent place in her overall strategy for the continent.”
ICGLR-FSR includes trade policy lobbies from the members of the ICGLR (International Conference on the Great Lakes Region) countries which include Kenya, Uganda, DRC, Rwanda, Burundi and Angola. Others are Tanzania, South Sudan, Sudan, Congo, Central Africa Republic.
The lobby does not vote at the WTO and neither is it a member. But the endorsement by business groups often leads political leaders to follow suit.