Who will be the next WTO Director General?

As countries contemplate which candidate to support, they must keep in mind the many roles played by the WTO DG. They represent the WTO in international forums, facilitate negotiations, head the Secretariat, and serve as the guardian of the WTO system.

On 31 August, Mr. Roberto Azevêdo officially stepped down as the Director General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO DG). Mr. Azevêdo’s resignation was unexpected and came a year before the end of his eight-year tenure at the WTO. This development has rendered the WTO leaderless at a time when COVID-19 has bolstered de-globalisation forces, while faith in multilateralism has dwindled across the world. WTO trade negotiations have hit an impasse, its dispute settlement system is paralysed and protectionist trade policies have been on the rise. Meanwhile, the technology and trade war between the US and China is frustrating the norms underpinning global economic governance.

Guiding the WTO through these challenges, while protecting and promoting the mandate of the WTO will be a difficult task for the new director general. This calls for the need to appoint a figure with a higher political profile, armed with extensive experience in trade and diplomatic negotiations. A survey of stakeholders and practitioners — conducted by the European University Institute — revealed that the key attributes they are seeking in the new WTO head is political experience, economic training and competence in handling WTO negotiations.

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