WTO Director-General to Step Down Ahead of Twelfth Ministerial Conference
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WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo has announced that he will step down on 31 August 2020, cutting his second term short by one year.

Azevêdo stated that staying on through the end of his term could cause the “politically charged” selection process for the next Director-General to “impair preparatory work” for the Twelfth Ministerial Conference.

With physical meetings suspended due to the pandemic, Azevêdo encouraged members to “launch the selection process with less impact than usual on our work”.

After seven years in office, World Trade Organization (WTO) Director-General Roberto Azevêdo has announced that he will step down on 31 August 2020, cutting his second term short by one year. The timing of Azevêdo’s departure from the Organization is intended to give his successor the time to work with WTO members to shape the strategic direction for the Twelfth Ministerial Conference (MC12) and beyond.

Azevêdo made the announcement at a virtual meeting of all WTO members on 14 May, ahead of the special virtual meeting of the General Council on 15 May.

In a statement, Azevêdo highlighted the need to “ensure that trade contributes to the global economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic” and to advance the wider discussions around WTO reform to ensure that the Organization continues to be able to respond to members’ needs and priorities. In this regard, he identified MC12 as “a critical landmark” and “a stepping-stone to the future of the WTO.” Azevêdo indicated that the high-level Conference, originally scheduled to take place from 8-11 June 2020, in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, may take place in the middle or at the end of 2021.

The WTO must start 2021 with a focus on the real challenges such as ensuring that the multilateral trading system responds to new economic realities.

Azevêdo stated that staying on through the end of his term could cause the “politically charged” selection process for the next Director-General to “impair preparatory work for MC12,” and called for “decoupling” these two processes. Urging members to “promptly move ahead with the process for selecting the next Director-General,” he said the WTO must start 2021 with a focus on the “real challenges” such as “ensuring that the multilateral trading system responds to new economic realities,” particularly the post-COVID-19 recovery. With physical meetings suspended due to the pandemic, Azevêdo encouraged members to “launch the selection process with less impact than usual on our work.”

According to the procedures for the Director-General selection process, adopted by WTO members in 2002, in the event of a vacancy, “the Chair of the General Council shall initiate, as soon as possible, a process for appointment of a new Director-General.” Responding to Azevêdo’s statement, Chair of the General Council, David Walker, indicated his intention to “immediately engage with members” and initiate this process by sending a communication to notify all members of its start. Walker said he will also consult with members to “look at establishing expedited deadlines as necessary, given the very limited time that we have before 1 September.”

If no new Director-General is selected by 1 September, pursuant to the 2002 procedures, the General Council “shall designate one of the existing Deputy Directors-General to serve as Acting Director-General until the appointment of a new Director-General.” The four Deputy Directors-General are Yonov Frederick Agah (Nigeria), Karl Brauner (Germany), Alan Wolff (US), and Yi Xiaozhun (China).

Roberto Azevêdo (Brazil) is the sixth Director-General of the WTO. He assumed office on 1 September 2013, serving a four-year term. His second four-year term as WTO Director-General started on 1 September 2017. [WTO News Release]


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