WTO chief Azevedo resigns early as the trade body needs reforms

World Trade Organization (WTO) Director-General Roberto Azevedo announced on Thursday that he will step down from his position on 31 August, more than a year before his second term as global trade body head was due to end. His departure comes at a difficult time for the WTO, which is charged with setting international rules for trade between member states.

The body has come under immense pressure to justify its relevance after the US effectively paralyzed its ability to settle disputes by blocking the appointment of judges to its appellate body.

"It is a personal decision - a family decision – and I am convinced that this decision serves the best interests of this organization," Azevedo, a 62-year-old Brazilian career diplomat, told WTO member state representatives in a speech, pointing out that he and his wife have been living in Geneva while his daughters and mother are in his native Brazil.

The administration of US President Donald Trump has demanded broad WTO reforms without specifying its demands, and it has not accepted compromise proposals that are backed by a majority of the 164 WTO members. In addition, US trade tensions with China, as well as with the EU, have raised questions about the stability of the global trade rules that the WTO stands for.

Azevedo said he decided to step down already in August so that the search for his successor does not interfere with preparatory work for next year's WTO ministerial meeting, which is set to focus on reforming the organization. "The WTO may not be perfect, but it is indispensable all the same," Azevedo said. "It is what keeps us from a world where the law of the jungle prevails, at least as far as trade is concerned."

European Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan lauded Azevedo's tenure but acknowledged that his announcement "offers a good moment for us to select a new director-general to embrace and respond to the many challenges for the organization," dpa reported. The impact of the coronavirus pandemic requires immediate planning for the future to eliminate unnecessary trade barriers, the member of the EU executive body said in a statement.


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