China’s threat to free trade: America fears the next boss of the World Trade Organisation will be Beijing’s poodle, says ALEX BRUMMER
Amid the Brexit dramas in the Commons for much of the last year, the choice of Britain reverting to rules policed by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) was invoked almost daily. Covid-19 has moved the political caravan on.
But with the UK’s trade relations with the EU, United States, Japan and much of the rest of the world up for grabs, the vacant job of WTO director-general surges in importance.
As the Chancellor Rishi Sunak was on his feet delivering his job-saving package on Wednesday, the Department for International Trade unveiled former Secretary of State Liam Fox as the UK’s candidate for the WTO, praising his multilateralism.
Trade threat: America has become perturbed by Chinese leader President Xi’s assault on global economic institutions
What precisely this does for velvet-tongued Peter Mandelson’s self-declared candidacy is unclear.
Running the Geneva-based WTO at present is a bed of nails, which is why the current incumbent Roberto Azevedo suddenly resigned in May.
He was frustrated by Trump Administration efforts to block nominations to the appeals panel.
Washington argues that this panel was loaded against US interests at a time when it is scrapping with China over tariffs and the EU over Airbus subsidies.
Britain has a keen interest in a robust WTO if it fails to get what it wants from the EU and bilateral trade deals currently under negotiation.
Choosing the boss of the WTO in the past has been an open process, in contrast to appointments at the IMF and World Bank, which are a US and European carve-up.
Fox’s candidacy is already being dismissed by trade aficionados as having no hope, in spite of him having held a senior trade job in the world’s fifth largest economy, which is highly dependent on free and open markets.
As is becoming the custom with global jobs, there is a big push for a candidate from outside the most powerful nations.
Among the favourites is Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former managing director of the World Bank, who also served as her country’s finance minister.
Included among the other candidates are names put forward by Egypt, Moldova, Mexico and South Korea.
The main US concern is that the winning candidate is not a Chinese cipher. America has become perturbed by President Xi’s assault on global economic institutions and recently managed to block Beijing’s effort to wrest control of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (a UN agency).
A whiff of pro-Chinese attitudes likely will kill a candidacy stone dead.
The notion that BA is more evil than other carriers in response to the pandemic is ludicrous. That hasn’t stopped 100 MPs, including 15 Tories, joining in the clamour for the nation’s flag carrier to be deprived of its valuable landing slots.
The Covid-19 crisis in the skies is global. Earlier this week in the US, United Airlines disclosed it was furloughing 36,000 staff, many whom will be permanently severed.
Big European carriers such as Lufthansa are only able to stay in the skies because of bailouts by national governments.
It is not clear which airlines precisely the Unite union and the baying crowd of MPs would like to see at gates vacated by BA. Attacking BA for taking decisive action to try and ensure survival in crisis is an act of self-harm.
BA’s dominance on transatlantic routes is no accident. It inherited or bought the slots, and offers the most comprehensive schedule of flights to every part of the US, from New York to Los Angeles.
Britain’s success in the world is largely the result of a people-driven services economy earning a large invisible trade surplus with the US.
Removing gates and landing slots from BA would benefit no one except rival subsidised European and Middle-Eastern carriers and bailed-out US airlines.
It is hard to think that John McDonnell and Ed Miliband – two of the MPs ganging up against BA – would want to see tax-exile controlled Virgin Atlantic being gifted extra flights across the Atlantic.
MPs and the Unite union should wake up and smell the coffee.
The prospect of the UK borrowing up to £500billion over the next two years is not fazing buyers of gilt-edged stock.
The yield on short-dated UK bonds sunk to record lows in latest trading. The two-year gilt yield slipped to -0.113 per cent and the five-year to 0.08 per cent.
Welcome to the strange world of government on the never-never.