The director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Roberto Azevêdo, has resigned, cutting short his second term at the global body by a year.
At a virtual meeting of all WTO members held earlier today, Azevêdo, who has held the role for seven years, said that this was a “personal decision”, and that bringing forward his departure would allow members to select his successor in the coming months, without diverting political energy and attention from preparations for the Twelfth Ministerial Conference (MC12), which is set to be held in 2021.
“In our normal calendar, the selection process for the next WTO director-general would start this December, with the nomination of candidates. The selection process would then dominate the first trimester of 2021 – and maybe longer. I don’t have to remind you how intense that process is,” he said. “In either case, the selection process would be a distraction from – or worse, a disruption to – our desired outcomes. Instead of focusing all efforts on the search for compromise – on finding flexibility and making concessions – we would be spending valuable time on a politically charged process that has proved divisive in the past.”
The unexpected departure of its director-general comes amid trying times for the WTO. The Covid-19 pandemic has roiled the global economy, with WTO economists forecasting a drop in global merchandise trade by as much as 32% this year. Speaking last month, Azevêdo said: “These numbers are ugly – there is no way around that. Comparisons with the financial crisis of 2008 and even the Great Depression of the 1930s are inevitable.”