Business & Economy

Kenyan minister: WTO must resolve US-China trade war

By Pedro Alonso

Nairobi, Sep 23 (efe-epa).- The resolution of the United States-China trade war must be a “priority” for the World Trade Organization, Kenya’s minister for sports, heritage and culture, Amina Mohamed, a candidate to lead the institution which is suffering the worst crisis in its 25-year history, told Efe.

Mohamed, 58, launched her first campaign to be head of the WTO in 2013 but was defeated by Brazilian Roberto Azevedo, who left the general-director position on 31 August and who she holds in “very high esteem.”

Seven years later, the former minister of foreign affairs and international trade and ex-ambassador to the WTO in Geneva believes she will be successful the second time.

British bookmakers have placed her as favorite to succeed Acevedo.

“I think the members are looking for a competent, experienced plug-in-play candidate to take over the director-general’s position in Geneva,” Mohamed says in an interview at the ministry headquarters in the Kenyatta International Conference Centre in the heart of Nairobi.

It was in this emblematic building that the minister presided over the organization’s 10th ministerial conference in 2015 when the 164 members of the multilateral institution reached a key agreement to abolish agricultural export subsidies.

Mohamed entered the second phase of the selection process for the post last week and is competing with Yoo Myung-hee, of South Korea, Mohammad Maziad Al-Tuwaijri, of Saudi Arabia, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria and Liam Fox, United Kingdom.

The Kenyan candidate does not see the WTO director-general as a butler who is willing to please everyone, as critics of the position argue, but as a facilitator of consensus, a visionary and an advocate of the multilateral trading system.

A supporter of updating the rules of the organization in line with realities such as the climate crisis and gender equality, she admits that the organization faces challenges such as the trade war between the US and China, the two largest economies on the planet.

“I think that of course, that will be a priority for any director-general because it’s really important that it is resolved and that these two big players that have made a serious contribution to the existence of the multilateral trading system and to enhancing its work across the world, I think that they need to be part of the system and they must continue making a contribution,” stresses the minister.

The WTO has been hampered in recent years by US President Donald Trump’s aversion to multilateralism, he said the 1994 pact that established the organization was the worst trade agreement ever.

Some observers see a bleak future for the institution if Trump wins a second term in the 3 November US elections.

Is it therefore possible that the US could leave the WTO as a result of its internal disputes?

Mohamed responds diplomatically that she never speculates about anything, adding that the US has contributed a lot to the system and continues to do so.

She says her hope is that some of the challenges facing the WTO can be resolved to ensure that members have confidence in the organization.

Beyond Washington’s reticence, the organization’s future leader will have to deal with the pandemic, which has forced many countries to look inward and boost domestic production of equipment required to combat the coronavirus.

The minister warns that protectionism is not the answer and calls for international cooperation.

“The WTO has a role to play to convince and encourage members to reconstruct and make resilient international supply chains,” she adds.

“I don’t think that there’s any doubt in my mind that any other option is extremely costly, expensive and it actually moves us away from what we want to do which is basically to trade with each other, to keep the lanes open and to make sure that everybody has what they need to beat this pandemic.

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