More countries must embrace free trade

More countries must embrace free trade

As the UK’s nominee to lead the World Trade Organization (WTO), I want to bring optimism and political energy to a job that has the power to improve millions of lives around the world.

Like Prime Minister Narendra Modi, I am a committed supporter of the rules-based international trading system. Now, more than ever, we must fight to protect the founding principles on which it is based.

Keeping trade flowing will be crucial to the economic recovery both in India and globally following the coronavirus pandemic. I visited India more than once during my time as the UK’s international trade secretary, where I witnessed first-hand how trade can change lives for the better. By working together, nations can grow trade and deliver prosperity for their people.

India has been at the centre of the multilateral system since 1948 and is a key player in the WTO. In 2019, India became the world’s fifth-largest economy with a gross domestic product of $2.94 trillion and International Monetary Fund projections show that it will continue to be a significant contributor to global growth over the next five years.

To this end, Prime Minister Modi has been vocal about the importance of free trade and the role of multilateralism in upholding the global trade architecture. More should follow his lead.

Many challenges and risks lie ahead. Even before the pandemic, global trade had started to shrink in the latter part of 2019. This, combined with the global rise in protectionist tendencies, has meant that the shared values that underpin the global trading system are being questioned.

The value of open trade in creating prosperity, which contributes to social cohesion and political stability, must not be overlooked. That political stability is the foundation stone for our collective security.

With trade tensions heightened more than at any point since the Second World War, wrong decisions now could lead to an unravelling of the global trading system as we know it, taking us back to a time in which the strongest call the shots and the weakest take what they are given.

We must not allow that to happen. We need a multilateral trading system that works for all. We need the courage to make difficult decisions and a new leader who has the experience and knowledge to do this.

The WTO does not lack technical capability, it lacks political momentum. That is why we need an experienced and respected elected politician with unparalleled international experience and a track record of delivering reform at large organisations. I believe I can bring that.

I can defend and renew the WTO and am not afraid to deliver tough messages on reform, sustainability and development to members.

The WTO must work from the ground up and deliver on the needs of small businesses in both the developed and developing worlds.

The WTO is facing extraordinary risks that it has not faced since its creation. As director general, I would fight for the change we need and recommit to our founding principles.

The author is a member of British parliament and the UK’s candidate for the position of WTO Director General.

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