Business & Economy

WTO is now more essential than ever, Mexican trade expert says

By Emilio C. Sanchez

Mexico City, Jun 23 (efe-epa).- Mexico has put forth an experienced, 73-year-old trade negotiator as its candidate to be the next leader of the World Trade Organization, an intergovernmental body that faces the dual challenge of an ongoing pandemic and a deep global economic crisis.

Jesus Seade, who serves as the Mexican government’s current deputy foreign secretary for North America and recently successfully negotiated a new trade deal linking Mexico, the United States and Canada, earlier forged a distinguished career at the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

He also was the chairman of the GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) Committee on Trade and Development and deputy director-general of the WTO.

The successor to current WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo, who is stepping down a year ahead of schedule, is expected to be named over the next two months.

Seade spoke to Efe about his candidacy and the current global situation and problems facing the WTO in an interview on Tuesday.

Question: What would Jesus Seade bring to the table as WTO director-general at this crucial moment?

Answer: The WTO has lost its way amid a very complicated scenario, due to the difficulties between the US and China that affect all of the members. There’s enormous tension. There’s a lot of friction and a collapse in the decision-making system. A lot of the system’s credibility has been lost.

The current crossroads requires leadership based on knowledge of the issues, of trade policies, of where the main obligations that have arisen and are causing problems for different reasons come from and how they can be corrected.

Knowledge of the issues is essential, and leadership includes being a good inter-cultural communicator and facilitator of consensus and conflict resolution so everything can be brought to the negotiating table.

Q: Is the current situation much more complex than the negotiations that led to the founding of the WTO in 1995?

A: Those negotiations to replace the GATT with the WTO were difficult and enormously tense because there were moments when everything was falling apart.

In terms of the issues, that was very complex. But the current crisis is perhaps greater because there’s been a loss of confidence. And it’s a two-pronged crisis: what the WTO’s been dealing with over the last 10 to 20 years, with no progress and with a very maligned dispute-settlement system, as well as the problems stemming from the measures to combat Covid-19.

Q: You’re Mexico’s candidate at a time when certain decisions by (Mexico’s current) government do not promote investment and have increased legal uncertainty for the renewable energy (sector), for example. Isn’t it the wrong time for a Mexican to be aspiring to lead the WTO?

A: It’s not a factor. The new WTO director-general shouldn’t be elected because of their nationality. (Mexican) President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is in favor of trade openness and firmly supports it. Mexico is in favor, and I’m certainly in favor of an open and non-discriminatory legal framework.

Q: Is there now a risk that the pillars of global trade and the WTO itself may disappear?

A: I’m convinced that with constructive dialogue neither China nor the United States, nor of course Europe nor other members, will want the WTO to collapse, despite the rhetoric that’s being heard.

The WTO is important for all of the countries and with good will trust can be restored.

Q: What can the WTO do to resolve the dependence on China, for example, in the provision of medical supplies?

A: There needs to be greater emphasis on each country producing the basic quantity of medicine or food that they deem essential and ensuring that every inhabitant of this world has access, since many (countries) have been unable to import medicine or essential supplies.

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