Race for WTO Director-General — additional material on Amb. Tudor Ulianovschi (Moldova)

Today I review some other press articles about the candidates to provide additional perspective on important issues or the candidate’s approach to the position of Director-General if selected. Yesterday, I posted material about Mr. Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh (Egypt), the day before on Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Nigeria) and on August 31 on Dr. Jesus Seade Kuri. See September 2, 2020, Race for WTO Director-General – additional material on Mr. Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh (Egypt), https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/09/02/race-for-wto-director-general-additional-material-on-mr-abdel-hamid-mamdouh-egypt/; September 1, 2020, Race for WTO Director-General – additional material on Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Nigeria), https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/09/01/race-for-wto-director-general-additional-material-on-dr-ngozi-okonjo-iweala-nigeria/; August 31, 2020, Race for WTO Director-General – additional material on Dr. Jesus Seade Kuri (Mexico), https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/08/31/race-for-wto-director-general-additional-material-on-dr-jesus-seade-kuri-mexico/.

There is no intention on my part to be exhaustive, and the research has been limited to press pieces in English. Rather the intention is to identify information not addressed in my earlier posts that may be of interest to readers.

Today’s post looks at a few articles featuring Amb. Tudor Ulianovschi from Moldova, the fourth candidate nominated.

  1. Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online, August 24, 2020, Moldovan DG hopeful: WTO needs a ‘dynamic,’ courageous leader, https://insidetrade.com/daily-news/moldovan-dg-hopeful-wto-needs-%E2%80%98dynamic%E2%80%99-courageous-leader.

As part of Inside U.S. Trade’s series of interviews with candidates for the Director-General position, the publication published its summary of the interview with Amb. Ulianovschi on August 24. A good part of the article reviews Amb. Ulianovschi’s views on his strengths as a candidate and the need for reform for the WTO.

On substantive priorities, Amb. Ulianovschi is focused on deliverables for the next Ministerial to be held in 2021, mentioning a fisheries subsidies agreement and various plurilaterals (Joint Statement Initiatives) that were under negotiation among various members. He would also seek a Ministerial Declaration on the role of the WTO in alleviating the negative trade consequences from COVID-19.

Amb. Ulianovschi views the need for Members to address the challenges from COVID-19 as a means for building momentum to deal with other pressing issues like tightening rules on industrials subsidies or how special and differential treatment is handled for countries at different stages of economic development.

On WTO reform, Amb. Ulianovschi, in addition to updating the rule book to reflect 21st century trading reality, stated that deep reform is needed. He would encourage Members to review all WTO rules and decide which rules needed to be rethought and which ones have not been implemented properly.

2. Xinhuanet, August 8, 2020, Interview: Moldova’s WTO candidate urges new, inclusive digital trade rules, http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2020-08/08/c_139273598.htm.

Amb. Ulianovschi stated in the interview that rulemaking on e-commerce was needed now and called for more inclusiveness for least-developed and developing countries in the digital economy. There are capacity issues for many least-developed countries and developing countries that need to be addressed. He pointed to the importance of digital trade during the COVID-19 pandemic and noted that further development of digital trade would improve resilience.

3. Chatham House, September 2, 2020, Webinar: In Conversation with Ambassador Tudor Ulianovschi: Candidate for Director-General of the World Trade Organization, https://www.chathamhouse.org/event/webinar-conversation-ambassador-tudor-ulianovschi-candidate-director-general-world-trade.

Chatham House has done a series of on-the-record webinars with the candidates for Director-General of the WTO. What follows are my notes on some of the questions posed and answers given by Amb. Ulianovschi.

Q:  What is your overarching attitude towards international trade?

A:  Amb. Ulianovschi is a strong advocate of free and fair trade; he favors multilateral trade.  He believes that the WTO has done good for its Members during its existence and that it will continue to do so.  However, any organization needs to adapt to 21st century realities (e.g, the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of protectionism, the financial crisis, changing nature of trade).  Key issues for the WTO include how are rules negotiated; how are the rules followed; and how are disputes between Members handled.  Amb. Ulianovschi takes a very holistic approach to the WTO and its future.  He states that it is better to have a system than not to have a system.  So in Amb. Ulianovschi’s view, the question is how to adapt the WTO to the 21st century.  The WTO very clearly needs reform.  Pursuing reform must be an overarching priority for the next Director-General.  Amb. Ulianovschi believes that the WTO needs to help increase economic development of people who are lagging behind.  While the WTO and liberalized trade have helped many people get out of poverty, there remain many more who need help.  COVID-19 has highlighted the inequalities that exist today. In his view, the WTO is more necessary than ever to help address the inequalities and expand world trade for the benefit of all.

Q:  is free trade always fair trade?  Where are the limits?  If you remove all subsidies immediately, what would happen? Aren’t there problems with over-regulation and with under-regulation too?

A:  Amb. Ulianovschi stated that if governments go to extremes at either end of the spectrum, the WTO system won’t work.  The key for the WTO is finding the right balance.  How fast can you liberalize trade flows free?  Amb. Ulianovschi believes that the WTO must refocus the organization to integrate those Members who haven’t benefited to date from the WTO.  The WTO must help Members with capacity building needs and be sensitive to those concerned with potential adverse effects from opening up home markets to imports too fast. 

Amb. Ulianovschi noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has hurt industries in both goods and services.  The WTO must help strengthen least developed countries and developing countries and ensure that regional or plurilaterals help all nations (e.g., by providing benefits on an most favored nation basis).  Amb. Ulianovschi stated that micro-, small and medium businesses (MSMEs) should be the focus of the WTO as such entities make up some 95% of many developing countries’ and least-developed countries’ economies.  there should be a focus on trade facilitation measures for many of these countries.  This is the way to move forward.

Finally, on monitoring and notification requirements, every WTO Member must promptly notify any domestic measures taken. Prompt notifications will improve transparency which should help reduce the risk of spillover effects on other economies from actions taken.

Q:  what role precisely can the WTO play in avoiding the worst effects of a global recession and negative effects of COVID-19?

A:  According to Amb. Ulianovschi, COVID-19 should be seen as a wake-up call to Members for the need for greater transparency. The key role of the WTO during a pandemic is to keep trade flows open and non disrupted for goods and services because of global value chains.  Where there are disruptions, improved transparency will help focus on what is needed.  Amb. Ulianovschi believes that the WTO must work much closer with WHO and FAO to be sure there is a more holistic approach to dealing with COVID-19 effects and recovery.  On vaccines, Amb. Ulianovschi believes Members must avoid nationalization of vaccines.  The WTO must make sure there are as few barriers as possible on vaccines, so all peoples can receive vaccines.

In Amb. Ulianovschi’s view, COVID-19 has caught most or all countries off-guard.  Many governments focused initially on protecting their own citizens and their economies.  As required, restrictive measures should be notified to WTO promptly. Any such measures are not to be permanent. Governments must reduce and then eliminate such measures based on lack of continued need.

Q:  On climate change and environmental degradation – what is the connection between global trade and sustainable development?  Is there a tension?  Can they be connected?

A:  Trade doesn’t need to be at odds with sustainable development. There are multilateral negotiations ongoing on fisheries subsidies.  These negotiations are not only important for WTO Members but also for the achievement of one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, 14.6. So trade can be connected to achieving sustainable development goals.

Q:  Where do you see US and EU aligned and where are the major differences?

A:  Amb. Ulianovschi noted that he has had discussions with major capitals in Europe, the Americas and Asia.  On a fundamental level, while there are concerns in the U.S. and the EU that the current system is not fully beneficial for them, they and China and other major countries are all in favor of a multilateral system.  This is a good starting point.  However, there is great mistrust within the organization among Members.  Some of the concerns expressed by both the EU and US on the dispute settlement system are important for the next Director-General to address at the political level to get Members willing to deal with reform of the dispute settlement.  On digital trade, the WTO must see that digital trade is made an empowering tool.  However, there are many regulatory issues (e.g., privacy, customs duties, localization, etc.) that need to be addressed in the discussions as these are important for businesses to be able to operate.  In Amb. Ulianovschi’s view, it is critical that WTO Members avoid a vacuum of rules in any area of importance (e.g., digital trade) .  Where there is a vacuum of multilateral or plurilateral rules, then conflict is likely.  The US is concerned about lack of rules and application of rules on different issues.

Q:  do you consider the challenges to be primarily technical or primarily in political?

A:  Amb. Ulianovschi has indicated that the current challenges are a bit of both, but he leans towards political as the most important.  The next Director-General must have both political and technical skills and background.  Looking at issues where both elements are needed, Amb. Ulianovschi identified unfinished business on agriculture as an example. Many items raised in the Doha Development Agenda remain unresolved after nearly 20 years. In Amb. Ulianovschi’s view, the WTO needs technicians to come forward with new approaches to moving elements forward, but the WTO also needs political will from Members to agree to forward movement.


Each candidate has been very busy these last several months meeting with WTO Members both in Geneva and in capital (whether in person or virtually), talking to the media, doing events with academia and think tanks and others. The above additional materials on Amb. Ulianovschi are a small sample of what is available online. The excerpts or summaries from the various publications have largely been limited to some of the key issues my previous posts have examined (appellate body reform, industrial subsidies, etc.) or discussions of other issues of potential interest.

Future posts will look at additional materials for other candidates.

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