The WTO is getting a new leader, and they should be African – Liberal Article

The WTO is getting a new leader, and they should be African – Liberal Article

In mid-September, the WTO selection committee announced it had narrowed the shortlist down to the five most promising contenders for the role of Director-General. Although a largely administrative role, the soft power of the position could, in the right hands, reshape the global trading regime. 

That is why, with the unknowns of a Brexit world, Boris Johnson nominated Dr Liam Fox. He is the first Secretary of State for International Trade to be shortlisted. Dr Fox has made it to the final shortlist. But he is joined by some women who are fairly more qualified contestants. Two of which are from African nations and would be far better picks. 

Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the most promising candidate in my eyes, served as both foreign minister and finance minister of Nigeria. She is also a distinguished economist and held the second-highest position in the World Bank. Okonjo-Iweala also finds the time to chair Gavi (the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisations). She is also no stranger to international affairs and negotiation. In fact, she has recently been appointed special envoy by the African Union to source funding to help the continent deal with COVID-19.

The other promising candidate, Amb. Amina C. Mohamed from Kenya, also has plenty of credentials under her belt. She has extensive executive experience with the WTO, having hosted the first WTO Forum in Africa as well as chairing several high-profile decision bodies within the WTO. Prior to this, she also served as Kenya’s Foreign Affairs and International Trade Minister. 

Both candidates have been proponents of the developmental economic theory “Trade, not aid”. While I imagine neither would support the cancellation of aid packages to the continent entirely, the theory calls for greater integration of developing nations into the international trading regime to help spur economic and social development.

As the international body that is responsible for policing and facilitating global trade, the WTO is in a unique position to be a real driving force for economic inclusion for Africa. While some economists are sceptical of trade being the thing to prioritise as a developing nation. Others point towards nations like South Korea and Taiwan who have successfully grown rapidly to become high-income nations.

Both of these candidates, as well as the other female candidate Yoo Myung-hee from South Korea, are laughably more qualified to lead the WTO than Dr Liam Fox. The biographies of the other candidates list their achievements in fruitful regional and international trade agreements and active participation in international organisations. 

Dr Liam Fox’s biography highlights his achievement of setting up the Department for International Trade which is yet to have actually done anything. It also doesn’t mention that he was sacked by Boris Johnson and most achievements the department has achieved have been under his successor, Liz Truss.  

The importance of the WTO is often misunderstood. Along with the IMF and World Bank, these global economic institutions determine which nations prosper and which suffer. The WTO is the only one that has not been dominated by the West. Every President of the World Bank has had American citizenship and every Managing Director of the IMF European. No major economic institution has been headed by an African, and that needs to change. 

The WTO has recently gained prominence in our political discourse. You have probably heard it uttered in regard to Brexit or the trade disputes between China and the US. Its primary function is to ensure trade between nations is ‘fair’. Often, this is through facilitating tariff reductions – of which Amb. Mohamed achieved a big win for African Agricultural exports – as well as preventing hostile trading practices.  

As the mediator for trade disputes, and the body which can shape the patterns and terms of international trade, the WTO wields significant power to help the developing south. Something that both Dr Okonjo-Iweala and Amb Mohamed are keen to utilise.

It would also be an opportunity to right the rich north’s hold on international institutions. Dr Okonjo-Iweala is outspoken about the need to readdress the debt loads of African nations imposed by the IMF, World Bank, and private lenders. Amb. Mohamed has championed with some effect “trade, not aid” in order to wean Kenya off the handouts from richer nations. 

It would be an embarrassment if Dr Fox became the new Director-General of the WTO. It may be a big win for Britain, as we need a favourable WTO with the fallout of Brexit. However, it would be a slap in the face for Africa, and for women. It would say a lot if two of the most qualified and active members of the international economic establishments were overlooked for a rich white man who’s only applicable achievement was to set up a government department.

Written by Junior Liberal Writer, Daniel Jones

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Point of Information

The best-qualified person should be the new WTO leader – A Conservative response

Thank you, Daniel, for your insightful response. I would not necessarily suggest stating the new WTO Director-General “should be African”. But, that it should be the best-qualified person for the job. Dr Okonjo-Iweala and Amb Mohamed certainly have the upper hand. As shown by the recent news that Dr. Liam Fox has been dropped from the race.

Both Dr Okonjo-Iweala and Amb. Mohamed are excellent candidates for the final two. It will certainly be a tough decision. However, I disagree with your points about Liam Fox and his achievements with the Department of International Trade. You cannot expect outcomes instantly especially in a new government department.

Her Majesty’s Trade Commissioner positions were established to work with Trade Envoys to promote trade with the UK and its businesses. The Board of Trade was also established for similar reasons including securing UK accession to the WTO Agreement on Government Procurement as an independent member if the UK leaves the EU without a deal. The majority of current trade agreements were carried over and the DIT established the Export Strategy to aid British businesses.

Yes, Liam Fox laid out the foundations for the DIT but you have to start somewhere. We should be proud that the UK has some influence when it comes to trade. Again, I will clearly state that the best-qualified person should get the job.

Written by Guest Conservative Writer, Max Jablonowski

A colossal job ahead of them – A Labour Response

Dr Okonjo-Iweala seems to be the favourite among us writers, and amongst the members of WTO. As Max has said, Liam Fox is no longer in the running. South Korea’s Yoo Myung-hee and Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala are left as the last two candidates. And yes, for the first time in the history of the WTO, it will be a woman leading it – but this is not a reason to celebrate just yet.  

I say this because the real work is still ahead. The chosen candidate must be strong enough to deal with the colossal issues facing the failing organisation. The WTO is in a ‘wretched state’. Additionally, this election comes in the midst of the economic turbulence of COVID-19 and the rise in protectionist barriers. 

The organisation is failing since it has proven hard for the WTO’s 164 members to reach agreements. For example, the Doha round talks which aimed at making trade rules fairer for developing countries. These talks started in 2001 and aimed to be finished by 2005. They rolled over until 2015 when they were finally killed off, from the clear indication that no trade agreement could be reached. The bar for cooperation is so low. If the members of WTO ever reached a consensus on a leader, that would be a great success. 

Another challenge faced is the United State’s tantrums over China. This has led Washington to block the appointment of judges to the organisations equivalent of a ‘top court’, the Appellate Body, which existed to rule on major disputes between countries. The reconstruction of this body needs to be a top priority for the incoming leader. 

Whether it is Okonjo-Iweala or Myung-hee who become the next director-general, they must be able to handle the pressure and threats of the world’s downturn. They must strengthen the organisation and restore faith in it. This must all be done before we can even start to think about the potential benefits to Africa if Okonjo-Iweala is elected. 

As for Boris Johnson having nominated Liam Fox, an under-experienced politician compared to the rest, it was clear the EU countries would have never voted for him. With the way EU-Brexit trade negotiations are going, this was a desperate way for the UK to secure its trade interests.

Written by Junior Labour Writer, Giulia Valentina

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Daniel Jones
Junior Liberal Writer | Website

I’m a queer loving feminist liberal, enough to make a hard-line conservative have an aneurism. I have been forced to this position having grown up witnessing and experiencing injustice first-hand. Politics sort of came to me, which it does if you are anything but a cis-white-heterosexual man. My life and the way I wanted to live it was unavoidably political, so I may as well get involved.

Max Jablonowski
Senior Conservative writer | Website

I am Max Jablonowski, a second year student studying French and Politics at the University of Exeter, and I am about to go on my year abroad to Paris to complete two internships. I was Academic Events Manager of the Politics Society in Exeter and I was privileged enough to organize events such as Question Time, co-host the 2019 General Election Hustings with MWEXE and host the Rt. Hon. James Brokenshire MP, the current Minister of State for Security.

Giulia Valentina
Junior Labour Writer | Website

Solely focused on my art career at A-level, I was completely disassociated with the existence of politics, at home and at school. As the political and humanitarian crisis in my home country, Venezuela, worsened, I became absorbed by the situation and understanding the politics of corruption that was causing the biggest refugee crisis in the continent.


  1. Thank you for the updated information. We hope Dr. Ngozi Okonjo- Iweala would be the final pick by the authorities.

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