WTO director general to step down

World Trade Organization (WTO) Director-General Roberto Azevedo will step down from his position today. The chief defender of the multilateral

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Photo: REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/Files

World Trade Organization (WTO) Director-General Roberto Azevedo will step down from his position today.

The chief defender of the multilateral trading system, Azevedo is set to leave at a time when free trade is under threat from both COVID-19 and the US-China trade war. The two favourites for Azevedo’s replacement are Kenya’s Amina Mohammed and Nigeria’s Ngosi Okonjo-Iweala. Both women are compromise candidates as their respective African regions are suitably neutral for the US, China, Russia and the EU.

By backing a Trump administration proposal for reforms to the WTO’s highest dispute-settling appellate court, both candidates have already made major pitches to the US. Washington has refused to appoint new judges to the court in response to repeated rulings against US tariffs on low-priced imports, effectively suspending the WTO’s appellate body. Should either one of the favourites succeed, it will likely shift the balance in favour of member states vis-à-vis the WTO’s judicial bodies. But if either candidate pitches too heavily towards Washington, Beijing will likely veto their candidacy—and vice-versa. As such, the contest is likely to stretch into next year.

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