Race for next global trade chief starts early

The race to be the next global trade chief is on, and it promises to be a more geopolitical contest than ever as tensions between the U.S. and China are bound to loom over the appointment.

Roberto Azevêdo, director general of the World Trade Organization since 2013 and a former Brazilian diplomat, on Thursday told WTO officials in Geneva that he would step down a year before his term ends in September 2021.

Instead of appointing a deputy as the acting director general, Azevêdo suggested starting the selection process for a full-time replacement as soon as possible so a new chief would be in place before he leaves in September, or at least shortly afterward.

The news comes at a difficult time for the WTO, which has been caught squarely in the center of U.S. President Donald Trumps global trade war.

Trump regards the WTO as too soft on China and its highest court — the main arbitrator of trade disputes — has ceased to function because the U.S. is blocking the appointment of new judges.

The big goal of the WTO process is to try to build consensus around one candidate, with others dropping out along the road.

The coronavirus pandemic has only compounded accusations of paralysis. Despite a plunge in global trade, new trade barriers for medical products and widespread talk about reining in globalization, the WTO has remained conspicuously low key in condemning export restrictions.

On top of that, the only negotiation where the WTO hoped to reach an agreement anytime soon, on fish subsidies, is on hold.

Diplomatic jostling

The selection process for a new WTO chief has always been a game of international wheeling and dealing but this appointment — fought in the run-up to a U.S. election — is very likely to lay bare stark international fault lines.

Earlier this year, a fight between the West and China over who was going to lead the World Intellectual Property Organization, a U.N. agency in Geneva, was seen as a precedent for the WTO leadership contest. In the end, the Singapore regulator Daren Tang, who was nominated with the support of U.S. and European officials in an effort to fend off a challenge by a Chinese candidate, won the race. On the other hand, EU officials were dismayed when Chinas Qu Dongyu last year became director general of the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization.

The trade world will be focusing on whether candidates are seen as aligned to heavyweights like the U.S., China and the EU.

The big goal of the WTO process is to try to build consensus around one candidate, with others dropping out along the road. America and China have never had a WTO chief and it would probably be too polarizing for them to field candidates. European countries, by contrast, have held the position three times.

One early name mentioned by someone following the case is Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha González. The name of former EU trade chief Cecilia Malmström is also circulating in Geneva.

But naming yet another European may not go down well with other blocs. Azevêdos immediate predecessor Pascal Lamy was French. There is a growing feeling among trade diplomats that its Africas turn to lead to the tradeRead More – Source

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