A staunch Eurosceptic and Atlanticist, Fox is one of eight nominees to replace outgoing director general Roberto Azevedo.
Liam Fox, Britain’s former international trade secretary, was nominated by the UK to be the next head of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to replace outgoing director general Brazilian Roberto Azevedo, who is stepping down on August 31.
The UK was one of eight countries that submitted a nominee on July 8. Other candidates include Jesus Seade Kuri (Mexico), Abdel Hamid Mamdouh (Egypt), Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Nigeria), Tudor Ulianovschi (Moldova), Yoo Myung-hee (South Korea), Amina Mohamed (Kenya) and Mohammad Al-Tuwaijri (Saudi Arabia).
The post’s holder will be decided by all 164 member states upon reaching consensus. Candidates have until September 7 to lobby members, who will then decide via consultations on a consensus choice.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson justified the government’s nomination of Fox as “the ideal candidate” to lead the WTO and listed his attributes including his advocacy for multilateralism, his “decades of experience in global politics, as well as first-hand experience of running a trade ministry” and his belief that global prosperity and security are underpinned by rules-based free trade.
A self-proclaimed “staunch Eurosceptic,” Fox supported Brexit at the 2016 EU Referendum. Shortly after Theresa May became Prime Minister, Fox was appointed as Secretary of State for International Trade, responsible for securing trade deals following Brexit.
Fox said in a 2017 interview that the UK’s free trade deal with the EU after leaving would be the “easiest in human history.” He was criticised during his tenure for suggesting that the UK would have up to 40 trade deals ready immediately after it leaves the EU. The UK has 20 such deals in place.
In July 2019, he lost his position in a cabinet reshuffle by new Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Fox studied Medicine at the University of Glasgow and worked as a GP and civilian army medical GP before being elected as a Member of Parliament (MP) in 1992.
A member of the Conservative Party, Fox has been MP for North Somerset since 2010. In the 2009 expenses scandal, as Shadow Cabinet minister he was found to have the largest over-claim on expenses and forced to repay the most money.
From 2010 to 2011, Fox was Secretary of State for Defence under the premiership of David Cameron, a position which he would resign over allegations that he had given a close friend access to the Ministry of Defence and allowed him to join on official overseas trips.
In 2005 and 2016, he made unsuccessful bids for the leadership of the Conservative Party.
Throughout the course of his career in government, Fox has maintained a hawkish line on many foreign policy issues. He voted in favour of the 2003 invasion of Iraq and has been an outspoken supporter of the war in Afghanistan, and British presence in both wars.
In March 2013, Fox was one of the chief guests at a conference in Bahrain that attempted to rally opinion on the side of the Bahraini government in the wake of the Arab Spring.
Fox maintains strong Atlanticist views; he believes that NATO is the organisation’s primacy on matters relating to the defence of Europe. He is also a strong proponent of the ‘Special Relationship’ between the UK and US, and was the UK Director and founding member of The Atlantic Bridge.
He is a supporter of Israel and a member of the Conservative Friends of Israel.
Fox acknowledged his WTO nomination stating that he was honoured and noted that the task ahead for the organisation was to “strengthen and reform” to remain relevant and vibrant, adding, “we must ensure that global trade works for everyone.”
The 62-year-old Azevedo announced in May that he was quitting a year before the end of his term. He has served as director general since September 2013 and had been due to conclude his second four-year term in August 2021.
With Azevedo’s departure, the likelihood is that the post will be filled by a candidate from Africa, Middle East or North America – regions that have yet to hold the position – making Fox’s chances slim.
The search for a new director general comes at a crucial time for the WTO, with cooperation between governments under severe strain and rising protectionism, amid an escalating US-China trade war and the economic fallout from the global pandemic.