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Damaged WTO now leaderless as chief Roberto Azevedo steps down

Azevedo, a Brazilian, is heading for a job at PepsiCo Inc and eight candidates are vying to replace him

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WTO

Reuters 

In theory, a winner should be selected by November 7, under an agreed elimination process that seeks to have a new director-general appointed by consensus
In theory, a winner should be selected by November 7, under an agreed elimination process that seeks to have a new director-general appointed by consensus

The World Trade Organization’s director-general Roberto Azevedo steps down on Monday, leaving the already-damaged global watchdog leaderless as it faces the biggest crisis in its 25-year history.

As the WTO’s influence seeps away, rising tensions and protectionism during a Covid-induced slowdown, most obviously between China and President Donald Trump’s US administration, make reform of global trade rules ever more urgent. “This is indeed a new – though alas not unsurprising – low point for the WTO,” said Rohinton Medhora, president of the Centre for Governance Innovation. “The organisation has been directionless for some time, several years in fact, and will now be functionally leaderless.”

In particular, the appeals court, which rules on trade disputes, has been paralysed by Washington’s blockade on the appointment of new judges.

Azevedo, a Brazilian, is heading for a job at PepsiCo Inc and eight candidates are vying to replace him.

In 1999, a four-month gap leadership vacuum was widely seen as damaging, and guidelines to prevent a repeat envisaged the 164 members selecting a temporary replacement from among four current deputies. But Washington’s insistence on its candidate prevented agreement, leaving a vacuum that will last for months.

In theory, a winner should be selected by November 7, under an agreed elimination process that seeks to have a new director-general appointed by consensus. In practice, trade sources say the uncertainty around the presidential election on November 3 in the US, which has not said publicly which candidate it prefers, could delay matters further. The 2021 budget, due to be set at the end of the year, which Washington might question, could also be a hurdle. The US administration of President Donald Trump says the WTO, which took almost 20 years to broker its first global agree­ment, has failed for years to hold China - the world’s second largest economy after the US- account­able for unfair trade practices. It also says the wider tariff system is unfair to the US.

Trump has even suggested quitting the WTO, although no firm plans have been announced.

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First Published: Tue, September 01 2020. 02:02 IST
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