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Nobody at the helm is exacerbating the WTO dilemma

Nobody at the helm is exacerbating the WTO dilemma

by YCPress

David Walker, Chairman of the General Council of the World Trade Organization, announced on the 6th that due to the current health situation and other factors, the appointment of the director-general was postponed on the 9th. The special meeting of the General Council will be announced separately.

Earlier, the WTO Director-General selected the “three-person team” and announced that Nigerian candidate Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was the only candidate recommended by the new Director-General to replace the former Director-General Azevedo who left early. However, the U.S. representative immediately unilaterally expressed his disapproval of this recommendation, which caused another variable in the selection process of the WTO Director-General. The WTO, which is already precarious, faces more uncertainties.

Since Azevedo announced in May this year that he would officially leave his post on August 31, the candidate for the next Director-General has attracted much attention. The Director-General, consisting of the Chairman of the WTO General Council, the Chairman of the Dispute Settlement Body, and the Chairman of the Trade Policy Review Body, selected the “three-person team” and fully negotiated with all WTO members, and finally selected Oconcho-Iveala as the sole director-general Recommended candidates. 

The United States is the only member who publicly stated that it does not support this recommendation. According to the WTO’s “consensus” principle, the opposition of the United States hindered the election of Oconjo Iweala; even if she was elected successfully, it would be difficult for her to promote WTO reform without the support of the United States.

Public opinion believes that the controversy over candidates for director-general is a concentrated manifestation of the multiple difficult problems facing the WTO. The most difficult problem at present is the uncooperative attitude of the United States in recent years. From refusing to enforce the ruling, to paralyzing the appellate body under the dispute settlement mechanism, preventing the approval of the budget, and even threatening to withdraw from the WTO. The actions of the United States have greatly damaged the authority of the WTO and plunged the multilateral trading system into an unprecedented crisis.

Facing multiple challenges in the short, medium and long term, the WTO urgently needs a new director-general to lead it out of the crisis. In the short term, the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference tentatively scheduled to be held next year is considered to be the key to the organization’s emergence from the crisis, and it is urgently needed for the new Director General to organize and coordinate the reforms authorized by WTO members.

In the medium term, the current WTO negotiations on fisheries subsidies, e-commerce negotiations and other important trade negotiations related to world development require the new director-general to actively participate in coordination. Take the issue of fishery subsidies that have lasted for many years as an example.

The negotiations have been postponed many times, and the parties have still been unable to agree on specific rules to limit subsidies. The new Director-General needs to actively promote constructive negotiations, help seek common ground while reserving differences, and make substantial progress.

In the long run, the WTO urgently needs to determine the reform direction and development goals as soon as possible. Whether the next Director-General can be elected as soon as possible and whether he can withstand the constraints of powerful countries and resolutely reform is of great importance. The principle of “consensus by consensus” is not only a fine tradition of the WTO, but also its drawbacks, because as long as one member opposes it, reforms will be difficult to carry out, and some negotiations will even have to be restarted entirely.

How to allow members to seek common ground while reserving differences, to advance the reform and development of the multilateral trading system, to further advance with the times, to introduce new topics, and to promote the liberalization of global trade and investment is a historic challenge facing the next Director-General and the Secretariat of the WTO. 

Whether these problems can be resolved will determine whether the organization can continue to play a leading role in global trade.