acting Director-General

WTO selection of next Director-General — phase three process; no acting Director-General chosen

Today’s informal Heads of Delegations meeting at the World Trade Organization has ended. It had two agenda items — finalizing the phase three procedures in the selection process of the next Director-General and seeing if agreement was possible on which of the four Deputy Directors-General should serve as acting Director-General beginning September 1 until a new Director-General is selected (probably by November 7). The current Director-General is stepping down on August 31, 2020, a year early.

No acting Director-General yet

Press reports indicate that WTO Members were not able to agree on an acting Director-General based on differences between the US and EU and opposition to Alan Wolff by three Members — China, Venezuela and Cuba. See Bryce Baschuk, July 31, 2020, Dysfunction Deepens at the WTO, Instead the existing four Deputy Directors-General will continue on until a new Director-General is selected and will continue to handle their current portfolios.

Procedures for the final phase of the section process for a new Director-General

Phase three of the selection process will start on September 8 after candidates have had their two months to make themselves known to the membership. Chairman of the General Council, David Walker (NZ) confirmed the procedures for the third (final) phase as they were discussed at the Tuesday informal Heads of Delegations meeting. There will be three rounds of consultations, in the confessional format, where each Member identifies first four, then two and finally the one candidate the Member views as most likely to achieve consensus among the Members (i.e., the Member’s preference(s)). Members are not permitted to express negative preferences nor provide a ranking when giving their preferences.

Amb. Walker with two facilitators (the Chairs of the Dispute Settlement Body and of the Trade Policy Review Body) will then determine the three candidates having the least support in round one; those three candidates will be expected to withdraw. In round two, three more candidates from the remaining five candidates will be expected to withdraw based on results of the confessionals. The third round will have just two candidates remaining, with the candidate receiving the lesser support expected to withdraw. In each round, the Chair of the General Council and his facilitators will also consider breadth of support among Members (both geographic and type of Member (developed, developing, least developed). The three rounds of consultations are viewed as helping build a consensus among the membership. At the end of the third round, there will be one candidate remaining who will be presented by the Chair of the General Council to the General Council as the candidate most likely to obtain consensus. If the Members agree by consensus on the candidate, that candidate becomes the next Director-General. If not, taking a vote by Members is a possibility under the 2002 procedures adopted by the General Council on selecting Directors-General.

It is understood that Amb. Walker has indicated that there will a short period for each round of confessionals (six working days), consistent with prior selections. Members who have put forward candidates are informed of results first, and then results are reported to the Heads of Delegations. Confidentiality by the Chair of the General Council and his facilitators is obviously critical and historically has not been a problem.


It is obviously disappointing that the divisions in the WTO membership are so deep that something as simple as agreeing on which of the four Deputy Directors-General should be the acting Director-General (a role which is essentially just administrative) could not be accomplished before the August break. It seems highly unlikely that there will be a resolution of differences that would permit the selection of an acting Director-General before September 1. Thus, the WTO will likely proceed with the current Deputy Directors-General and no acting Director-General until a new Director-General is selected.

The third and final phase of the selection process will start in early September and be concluded within two months. The procedures adopted in 2002 and followed in 2005 and in 2013 were successful in helping Members build consensus behind a single candidate. The Chairman of the General Council has announced procedures which appear to be identical to those used successfully in the past. The open question is whether the current conflict among Members will frustrate obtaining consensus by early November. Let’s hope a consensus is possible.

Selecting an acting Director-General for the World Trade Organization — the road forward

At tomorrow’s informal meeting of the Heads of Delegation in Geneva, the hoped for agenda would include both finalizing the process for phase three of selecting a new Director-General and, if progress were made in consultations with Members, reviewing selection of an acting Director-General to serve after current Director-General Roberto Azevedo steps down on August 31 until a new Director-General is in place (likely November 7 or later). If the issue of the acting Director-General is resolved at the informal Heads of Delegation meeting, then a General Council meeting would be called, presumably tomorrow afternoon, to formally select the acting Director-General by consensus.

News articles indicate that the consultation process appears at an impasse with the United States wanting Deputy Director-General Alan Wolff to serve as the acting Director-General but facing opposition from both the EU and China. Mr. Wolff is from the United States. Apparently the other Deputy Director-General being actively considered is Karl Brauner who is from Germany. See, e.g., Reuters, July 29, 2020, Exclusive: WTO unlikely to get interim leader as U.S. insists on its candidate, causes impasse, The article suggests that Members may be considering simply leaving the WTO organization without a Director-General until the selection process is completed. But the end game won’t be known until the meeting tomorrow morning.

Efforts by WTO Members to avoid blockage of selection process

The WTO Members agreed to a process for selecting a new Director-General at the end of 2002 to try to avoid the deep divisions and chaos that had characterized the 1999 selection process where there was a deadlock over two candidates, a delay in picking a Director-General and ultimately a decision to give the position of Director-General to each of the two candidates but at reduced time periods of three years each. In 1998-1999 there were no agreed-to procedures for either the selection of the next Director-General or for choosing an acting Director-General.

The 2002 procedures adopted by the General Council were intended to address both issues, although the vast majority of the procedures pertain to the selection of the Director-General while only one sentence of one paragraph addresses the selection of an acting Director-General. See Procedures for the Selection of Directors-General, adopted by the General Council on 10 December 2002, WT/L/509 (20 January 2003), para. 23 (“In the event of a vacancy in the post of Director-General, the General Council shall designate one of the existing Deputy Directors-General to serve as Acting Director-General until the appointment of a new Director-General.”). The 2002 procedures are embedded below.


The lack of leadership by the U.S., EU and China

If the news articles are correct that the impasse flows from the views of the United States, the EU and China, then one can only shake one’s head in disappointment at each of the three for lack of leadership. In a prior post, I reviewed that the selection of an acting Director-General should be an easy job for the WTO membership. Each of the four Deputy Directors-General are well known to the Members and each is obviously qualified. The job of acting is temporary and has been described as administrative in nature. See July 24, 2020, WTO Director-General’s farewell address to the General Council while Members can’t agree on an acting Director-General,

Alan Wm. Wolff is an exceptionally talented individual who has probably had the largest public presence of any Deputy Director-General in the history of the WTO. His speeches which are available from the WTO news archives should be collected and released as a book by the Secretariat. They reflect Mr. Wolff’s deep commitment to the multilateral trading system, his deep knowledge of history and cover a broad array of topics. For example, he speaks eloquently on the role of the World Trade Organization in maintaining peace and stability, the history of the WTO, the values undergirding the organization, the hope that the WTO provides to countries seeking accession and the work ahead to keep the organization serving its core purposes. He would be a very interesting candidate for Director-General if the United States had put him forward. He certainly would be a competent acting Director-General.

But the same can be said for each of the other Deputy Directors-General. Each will be able to handle the interim task of being the acting Director-General pending the selection of a new Director-General.

So it is obviously disappointing to see the impasse which reflects poorly on each of the major players involved.

A possible solution

While the WTO Members can obviously ignore the procedures they adopted in 2002 for selecting an acting Director-General and proceed without a Director-General, there are different paths to a possible solution that could be taken.

Obviously, Members could opt to overcome the impasse and get behind one of the four Deputy Directors-General. That is the best possible outcome.

Absent the Members fulfilling their role and finding consensus, the Deputy Directors-General who are under active consideration could withdraw their names from consideration by indicating that they would not serve if selected. While WTO Members may be unable to look out for the best interest of the organization, there is little doubt that each of the Deputy Directors-General has the best interests of the WTO at heart.

While the impasse could be solved by just Alan Wolff withdrawing, it would be a stronger message if both Messrs. Wolff and Brauner withdrew. There would still be two individuals to choose from. And a needless problem for the organization would be solved by the Secretariat leadership despite the narrow thinking of some of its Members.

The above suggestion is just a thought for the good of the WTO and its Members.

Selecting the next WTO Director-General — process for phase three and selection of acting Director-General may be decided on July 31

On Tuesday, July 28, the WTO held an informal meeting of the Heads of Delegation. Reportedly, the meeting was spent discussing the process for the third phase of the selection process for a new Director-General for the WTO.

The current Director-General of the World Trade Organization is stepping down one year early on August 31st. The first phase of the selection process for a replacement ended on July 8 (nominations by Members of candidates). The second phase, which is to permit candidates to become known to Members ends on September 7 and has already had each of the eight candidates meet with the Members in a General Council meeting (July 15-17). The third phase involves the Chair of the General Council supported by the Chairs of the Dispute Settlement Body and the Trade Policy Review Body consulting with Members, typically in a process referred to as “confessionals” in which each Member is asked to identify either the candidates the Member believes is most likely to achieve consensus or the candidates least likely to achieve consensus. Those candidates who are not viewed as being in the top number of candidates likely to receive consensus (or most likely not to achieve consensus if questions are styled that way) are expected to withdraw.

In 2013, there were three rounds of consultations to go from nine candidates to five candidates to two candidates with one candidate then put forward by the Chair of the General Council to the membership for a consensus decision. By procedures adopted at the end of 2002, this third phase is intended to be completed in two months, with provisions for possible voting if a consensus is not possible.

On the WTO webpage this morning, an additional informal meeting of the Heads of Delegation has been added and is scheduled for this Friday at 10 a.m. July 31st is the last day before the WTO’s August recess. A press article yesterday indicated that the informal meeting on Friday would take back up the issue of process for the third phase of the selection process, that discussions had been about having three rounds of consultations to take the candidates from eight to five to two to one. It was also reported that the informal meeting of Heads of Delegation on Friday would take up the question of who would serve as the acting Director-General between September 1 and whenever the selection process for a new Director-General concludes (likely around November 7). See Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online, WTO members to meet again this week on selection process, acting DG, July 28, 2020,

Should the informal meeting of Heads of Delegation reach agreement on an acting Director-General, a special General Council meeting would be called so the decision could formally be taken by consensus. By procedures adopted at the end of 2002, the acting Director-General is to be selected from the four Deputy Directors-General. All four of the Deputy Directors-General (DDGs) have indicated their willingness to serve as acting DG if selected. Yonov Frederick Agah (Nigeria), Karl Brauner (Germany), Alan Wm. Wolff (United States) and Yi Xiazhum (China) are the four DDGs.

Possible scenario for the phase 3 selection process

In a prior post, I provided a summary of statements made by each candidate to the General Council and a summary of press conference questions and answers. See July 19, 2020, The eight candidates for WTO Director-General meet the General Council – recap of prepared statements and press conferences, As reviewed therein each candidate has his or her own story for why he/she would be the right person to become the next Director-General. There are also issues of whether the candidate (1) is from a geographical area not previously having a Director-General of the WTO, (2) has WTO/Geneva experience, (3) has served as a Trade Minister, (4) has served in other high-level government positions, (5) has been an official of a multilateral organization, (6) is from a developed or developing country. There are also potential political issues reflecting any ongoing conflicts the candidate’s country has with other WTO Members. Depending on how WTO Members actually weigh the candidates’ credentials and the other issues will resolve which candidates are viewed as most likely or least likely to receive consensus from the WTO membership.

WTO Members obviously have much greater information on each candidate and will have the opportunity to talk privately with each candidate if so inclined. What follows is simply an outside observer’s thoughts on how the consultations could proceed. I provide my assumptions as I proceed. As any of the eight could be the candidate selected as the next Director-General, my views on who may drop out in each of the rounds should not be taken as any comment on the capabilities of the individual candidates but simply an assessment from the private sector of how factors could combine to narrow the field.

Round 1 of consultations, going from eight to five candidates

While some former U.S. Trade Representatives have stated that technical expertise is not needed to be an effective Director-General (and indeed there have been both WTO Directors-General and USTRs who came to the position without extensive trade backgrounds), considering the challenges facing the WTO at the present time, I believe many Members will view having a trade background and a good familiarity with current WTO issues as a plus for any candidate.

As Director-General Azevedo demonstrated, a candidate doesn’t need to have a prior high political office (e.g., Minister of Trade or head of other ministry) to be able to effectively work with and communicate with senior government officials of Members in capitals. That view is supported by comments by former U.S. Trade Representatives as well. See WITA’s July 16, 2020 webinar, Three former USTRs on the WTO in a time of change, (former USTRs Froman, Schwab, and Hills). Even though that is true, I believe many Members will view prior senior government experience as important in any candidate.

While serving in other multilateral organizations will likely be viewed as a plus for any candidate, it is not likely in my view by itself to override the other elements.

Geographical diversity will be a plus for the three African candidates. Depending on whether Mexico is viewed as North American or Latin, Dr. Seade may be helped (if viewed as North American) or hurt (if viewed as Latin since the current DG is from Brazil). The Saudi Arabian candidate similarly would be helped if viewed as a Middle East candidate or possibly hurt if viewed as an Asian candidate (since Thailand’s candidate in the past was selected as Director-General). The other three candidates come from regions that have had prior DGs. While all candidates have stated that the best candidate should be selected and not be a candidate from a particular geographical area, the factor of geographical diversity will likely be significant in weeding out at least some of the candidates.

If being from a developed country is helpful (since the current DG is from a developing country), then the Moldovan and UK candidates would be viewed as helped as they are the only developed country candidates. While the EC Trade Commissioner had early on indicated he thought the next DG should be from a developed country, the U.S. did not support that position. I assume it will not be a relevant factor for most Members.

The WTO, and the GATT before it, have never had a female Director-General. Considering UN Sustainable Development Goals, for many Members whether the candidate is female may be an important factor.

While the selection process in phase three is set up to try to prevent Members from preventing a consensus from forming, it is unclear how the process will work if one or more major players will not accept a candidate for political or other reasons. During the press conferences, questions were raised about (1) ongoing political tensions between Korea and Japan and between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, (2) tensions between the United Kingdom and the European Union from Brexit, and (3) concerns China might have if an Asian candidate were selected in terms of its ability to maintain a Deputy Director-General position. It would seem likely that if the EU chose to defeat the U.K. candidate, between their member states and friends in the WTO, they would be able to block Dr. Fox. It is unclear if the same is true for the Korean candidate should Japan alone oppose, but it is more likely that the Korean candidate would be blocked if China also worked to defeat the candidate. I don’t believe that sufficient Members would oppose Saudi Arabia’s candidate on the basis of Saudi Arabia’s conflict with Qatar.

Based on the above assumptions, I believe that the first round of consultations will likely result in the following three candidates being viewed as least likely to obtain a consensus and hence withdrawing:

Tudor Ulianovschi (Moldova) – I believe many Members will view other candidates as having similar or greater strengths; he is from Europe which has dominated past DG selections.

H.E. Mohammad MazaidAl-Tuwaijiri (Saudi Arabia) – I believe his message of bringing strong business management skills to the job will not attract a large part of the WTO Members.

Dr. Liam Fox (United Kingdom) — while having strong free trade credentials, he has limited WTO experience; being from Europe will be a negative if Members get past credentials.

Round 2 of consultations, going from five candidates to two candidates

It is not surprising that even in the first round, it is possible that other candidates could be the ones who withdraw versus the three listed. That caveat is even stronger in round two. That said, here are two of the three whom I believe will drop out after Round 2:

Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh (Egypt) — while Mr. Mamdouh has a wealth of WTO experience and is well known to many if not all of the WTO Members, I believe he will not make it to the final round based on what many Members may view as lack of political experience not having served as a Minister or other high level government position.

H.E. Yoo Myung-hee (Korea) — Minister Yoo has an impressive resume and her arguments for why she would be a good Director-General resonated with me. Because other candidates have similar or more extensive backgrounds in trade, I believe Minister Yoo will drop out after the second round.

I consider the other three candidates to be the most likely to achieve consensus. Which of the three drops out after Round 2 will, in my view, depend on the weight members give to Dr. Seade being from a Latin American Member vs. the weight given to a strong reputation for reform and political capabilities vs. trade background and track record of accomplishments within the WTO.

If the Latin American label (versus Mexico being part of North America which has never had a Director-General) generates significant negatives, then I believe Dr. Jesus Seade (Mexico) will drop out at the end of round two. This would be unfortunate in my view because his understanding of pending challenges at the WTO and suggested approaches to addressing them sounded the most developed and most likely to achieve results of any of the candidates.

If Dr. Seade is not eliminated at the end of the second round of consultations, the choice for the third candidate eliminated comes down to H.E. Amina C. Mohamed (Kenya) or Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Nigeria). Minister Mohamed has a strong record of accomplishments at the WTO including at the 2015 WTO Ministerial Conference in Nairobi. She checks all of the boxes of factors listed and hence is likely to be one of the last candidates standing. Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has a large reform reputation with a strong record at both the World Bank and as Finance Minister in Nigeria but has no WTO experience, and the trade experience that flows from her finance role or her role as a development economist.

Round 3 of consultations, from two candidates to the one candidate viewed as most likely to achieve consensus from the WTO Members

While any of the three reviewed above could be the one standing at the end of the process and all are obviously qualified to lead, I believe that Minister Mohamed of Kenya will be selected as the next Director-General.

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala would be my guess at who emerges as DG if Members don’t select Minister Mohamed.

While I believe that Dr. Jesus Seade may be the best candidate in fact, the current Director-General being from Brazil will likely move enough Members to vote for one of the two women candidates from African countries so that Dr. Seade will not make the final cut (if he gets to round 3).


With the hour glass running, the eight candidates for the WTO Director-General post are fully engaged in reaching out to WTO Members to get themselves known. From social media to webinars to press interviews to virtual and actual meetings with individual Members and groups of Members, each candidate and his/her host government are pulling out all the stops to help Members understand why the particular candidate is the right person to lead the WTO at the end of 2020.

Who Members decide is the best person to achieve consensus and become the next Director-General will unfold over the period September 8-November 7. The WTO is fortunate to have so many candidates come forward. There are lots of factors that can be considered by Members. Time will tell who emerges.

WTO Director-General’s farewell address to the General Council while Members can’t agree on an acting Director-General

The WTO held its last regularly scheduled General Council meeting before the August recess on July 22 and 23. While the meeting had a full agenda, it was also the scene for the current Director-General Roberto Azevedo to give his farewell address to the membership. Director-General Azevedo steps down at the end of August. Before getting to the irector-General’s farewell speech, I review several agenda items and activities at the General Council meeting that show the ongoing impasse among the membership.

Agenda item 4, Twelfth Session of the Ministerial Conference — date and venue

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the WTO postponed the 12th Ministerial Conference originally agreed to be held in Kazakhstan this past June until a future date in 2021. Kazakhstan has offered to host the conference in 2021. Moreover, the WTO has been able to advance in its use of virtual meetings and is now back with face-to-face meetings in Geneva as well. While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be a global challenge, selecting a venue and time of meeting is obviously critical to permit the logistical planning involved for the next ministerial conference. Unfortunately, Members were unable to reach agreement on the venue or the date. Since it would always have been possible for Members to agree to Kazakhstan for June 2021, with a fallback venue of Geneva in December 2021 if by April Kazakhstan did not believe it could safely host the event, the lack of consensus on venue and timing is disappointing. This was agenda item 4. See WT/GC/W/802, 20 July 2020 (Proposed Agenda for General Council meeting on 22-23 July 2020).

Agenda item 6, Designation of acting Director-General

The Chairman of the General Council postponed consideration of the issue of the appointment of an acting Director-General during the General Council meeting, despite the issue being an important agenda item, as Members had been unable to agree on which of the four Deputy Directors-General should serve in this temporary caretaker position while a new Director-General is selected. Since the selection process for a new Director-General could extend until early November, the role of acting Director-General is limited in time (probably just two months and a week). Moreover, by agreement of the General Council in late 2002, the acting Director-General is to be chosen from the four Deputy Directors-General. Members have been able to interact with each of the Deputy Directors-General for years (seven years for three of them; three years for Alan Wolff). So how hard could selecting an acting Director-General possibly be? Press reports have indicated that the Chairman of the General Council, Amb. David Walker of New Zealand, has heard from Members general support for either Alan Wolff of the United States or Karl Brauner of Germany, but no consensus for either and opposition to each from some Members. The other Deputy Directors-General (DDGs), Yonov Frederick Agah of Nigeria and Yi Xiaozhun of China have each served seven years (as has Karl Brauner) and Nigeria had been thinking about putting Mr. Agah forward as a candidate for the Director-General position before choosing Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Thus, any of the four DDGs would be competent to handle the position for the two plus months needed. Why politicize the selection of an acting Director-General? What about a coin flip to resolve this impasse? The inability of Members to agree on an acting Director-General needlessly delays the process of filling the post and exemplifies the breakdown of trust and agreement on a common purpose that has increasingly characterized the activities of WTO Members. Roberto Azevedo must look at the continued lack of willingness by Members to pull together for the common good as confirmation that he has made the right decision to step down early. What a nightmare for those trying to serve Members and move the organization forward must be the posturing done by Members on issue after issue. The Chair of the General Council will continue to consult with Members in the hope of achieving consensus on an acting DG and then will call another General Council meeting to obtain formal consensus.

Agenda item 8, Covide-19 intiative: Protecting Global Food Security Through Open Trade – Statement by Co-sponsors of WT/GC/218/Rev.1

Many WTO Members have put forward proposals for addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, but there has been no Member-accepted proposal to date. While the pandemic is a health crisis with large numbers of export restraints having been introduced by Members on medical goods, some countries have also introduced restraints on the export of agricultural goods. The agricultural restraints have been particularly concerning as there haven’t been shortages of production globally of core agricultural products.

The Cairns group of Members (Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay) has put forward a proposal to protect global food security through open trade in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. See WT/GC/218/Rev.1. The proposal is embedded below but basically calls for WTO Members (1) to exercise restraint in imposing export restraints on agricultural products, (2) to roll back restraints “in a timely and effective manner”, (3) not to impose export restraints “purchased for non-commercial humanitarian purposes by the World Food Programme (WFP) and other humanitarian agencies and fulfill other commitments made in earlier ministerial conferences; (4) to continue submitting notifications and to improve transparency on actions taken; and (5) to continue the reform process in agriculture. The proposal hardly restricts WTO Members from using existing flexibilities consistent with WTO rules. While questions and the raising of issues for additional consideration would be understandable, considering the severity of the pandemic on global trade, it is hard to understand the response of many countries that reportedly occurred.


Specifically press reports indicate that the proposal was attacked by a number of major countries – China, India and South Africa — as well as other developing countries. See, e.g., Washington Trade Daily, July 23, 2020 at 2.

Director-General Azevedo’s farewell address — “We’ve achieved a lot, but much remains to be done”

The current Director-General has generally received high marks for his efforts over the last seven years to move the organization forward and for achieving some successes along the way. He has always come across as a decent person working hard to be an honest broker and finding possible approaches to seemingly intractable differences.

That said, the last seven years have also been a challenging time with the inability to conclude the Doha Development Agenda (which in fairness had stalled back in 2008), a growing membership with radically different views of the needs and objectives of the organization, the economic shocks from the COVID-19 pandemic, the growing trade disputes among major players and unilateral actions taken outside of the system, the collapse of the Appellate Body, the limited functioning of the negotiating pillar of the WTO and so much more.

Being a former Ambassador to the WTO for Brazil, the current Director-General seems to have had better rapport with the Geneva Missions than his predecessor had, and at the same time DG Azevedo was able to have access at the political levels in capitals as needed. But for whatever successes DG Azevedo has had, there have been many frustrations as trust and willingness to work together have often been lacking from the Members on a wide range of issues.

His farewell address is a positive statement that reviews the logic of his early departure, reviews successes and the work left to be done. It is the type of farewell address that has Director-General Azevedo leaving on a high note and reflects positively on the character of the departing Director-General. The link to his address follows and the text is reproduced below. See

The Members owe Roberto Azevedo their sincere thanks for his unflagging efforts over seven years to help Members keep the organization relevant. That the WTO has lost some of its relevance and been unable to deliver on a range of important issues over the last seven years is attributable to the divides among the Members. DG Azevedo has been there for the membership. They just haven’t been there for themselves.

Godspeed Roberto Azevedo.

Statement by DG Azevedo on July 23, 2020 at the General Council meeting:

“Thank you, Mr Chairman.

“In preparing for today, I found myself looking back seven years to when I first addressed you as Director-General. And I can now tell you from experience, the last speech is much harder than the first.

“The first is about goals, and a game plan to tackle the future.

“The last one is about what has been achieved; how much is left to do; and saying farewell to people we really cherish. This final part is the toughest of all.

“Back in September 2013, I said that the WTO was at a crossroads. It’s still at a crossroads — and will continue to be for some time yet. This is not surprising, because this Organization is too important to have it easy.

“Each word, each comma that we negotiate here has a direct and measurable impact on public policies and business realities — and consequently, on people’s lives.

“Our agreements are subject to dispute settlement procedures that are automatic and consequential — and I’ll come back to this point.

“This means that negotiated outcomes here are always the product of truly complex, long and painful diplomacy.

“It was clear then, when I made that first speech to you, that we needed to deliver agreements to bring this Organization closer to the changing realities of the 21st century.

“And together, we did. The Trade Facilitation Agreement, in Bali, put the Organization back on the map as a venue for global trade rule-making. It gave us confidence that the multilateral track was viable, and that with enough political will and pragmatism, we could strike deals of great value for trade, growth and development.

“After that, we tried to advance the remaining Doha Round issues. It was, quite frankly, a tall order. We confronted the gateway issues head-on, and tested a large number of potential approaches. But despite intense efforts, including daily meetings and consultations with permanent representatives, it became apparent that positions in many areas were further apart than ever, with gaps widening instead of closing.

“Still, in Nairobi in 2015 we managed to harvest some important multilateral outcomes. Eliminating agricultural export subsidies and the trade distortions they create had been a longstanding goal for many members. We expanded the Information Technology Agreement, reducing and eliminating tariffs on $1.3 trillion of new-generation tech products.

“Not long after Nairobi, and like all multilateral institutions, the WTO was engulfed by strong political headwinds. These headwinds, and the associated tensions around trade, owe much to dramatic advances in technology, and the changes they have provoked in labour markets and in societies as a whole. It is also true, I have to say, that domestic social and economic policies have not done all they could have to contain inequalities of income and opportunity, and to ensure that the benefits from trade are more widespread.

“Despite these very challenging circumstances, standing still, for this organization, was not an option. We needed to find ways to move forward.

“It was clear that Doha issues could not simply be abandoned. We needed to find new, creative ways of pressing on in areas of fundamental importance to a sizeable portion of the membership. And indeed, we have been able to make progress in the ongoing negotiations on fisheries subsidies as well as in discussions on agriculture and other important issues.

“At the same time, it was an inescapable reality that there were other, very real issues that needed to be addressed within the WTO. To take one example, it was simply not acceptable for the WTO to be in the 21st century, decades into a profound digital revolution, with no truly consequential discussions on digital trade.

“We therefore began to test other approaches available in the WTO toolbox. Groups of members started to explore innovative ways of advancing issues of interest. You know them all: e-commerce; the facilitation of investments for development; micro, small and medium sized enterprises; the domestic regulation of services; and trade and the economic empowerment of women.

“This second track of work received an important boost at MC11 in Buenos Aires in 2017. Those initiatives have since become an important part of work here in Geneva, with a growing number of participants from both the developed and developing worlds, and a welcome spirit of transparency and inclusivity from the proponents.

“Delivering on both the multilateral front and the joint initiatives will be vital for the future of the system. For the road ahead, MC12 will be a key landmark. It must deliver credible agreements and map the way for further reforms.

“I had hoped to work with you to deliver precisely such outcomes this past June. But the postponement of the ministerial to next year, because of the pandemic, brought me to the conclusion that I needed to step down this summer.

“Had I stayed on for the remaining year in my term, the DG succession process and the MC12 preparatory process would have overlapped. My decades of experience working with this Organization left me firmly convinced that this would have irremediably compromised prospects for success at the ministerial.

“In light of the COVID-19 crisis, MC12 has become even more important: it will be a key decision point for you to shape the direction of the post-COVID global economy.

“The date of the ministerial, which now seems likely to be held next June, was beyond my control. The timing of my succession, however, was within my power to change. My early departure allows you to decouple the two processes. This was best for the system, making my choice a no-brainer.

“It’s a no-brainer because the WTO is much more than just a job to me. My first posting in Geneva was in 1997. We lived almost five years in this building. Even after going back to Brasília in 2001, my kids used to tease me that I hadn’t actually left Geneva. I was still spending a big portion of my time here, first as a litigator, then as a negotiator.

“In 2008, I came back as Brazil’s Ambassador to the WTO. Five years later you appointed me Director General.

“Twenty-three years of my professional life have been intrinsically linked to this Organization. I have had many happy moments, but also — like most of us — my share of disappointments.

“But even at the lowest points, not once in these 23 years did I ever doubt the role that this system plays in improving people’s lives around the world. We will be worse off if the system’s relevance and effectiveness are allowed to erode.

“When I announced my decision to step down back in May, I said that MC12 would be a stepping-stone to the future of the WTO.

“But what should the future of the WTO look like? That’s the question. Of course, it will be shaped by you, the members. But I want to take this moment to share with you my own views on the subject.

“And let me start with a warning: don’t assume that the WTO has a future irrespective of what you do here.

“To assure the future of the WTO, it is fundamental that members truly believe in the need to update the system. Some may still believe that the pressures afflicting the WTO are localised, and therefore temporary. I want to assure you that they are not.

“The pressures on trade, and on the WTO, derive from fundamental structural changes in the global economy. Changes in technology, groundbreaking business models, and shifts in the balance of economic power — they all have fundamentally altered the way countries and companies interact, not to mention the ways we go about our daily lives.

“The rules we negotiated back in the 1980s and signed into force in 1994 are still very relevant and much-needed. They are, in fact, the last bastion preserving some degree of order and predictability in global trade and economic relations. Lose this, and we lose fundamental pillars of peace and prosperity.

“Yet lose them we may — if the WTO does not evolve.

“In substantive terms, there is a wide range of issues that are before you right now. Each of them would offer a meaningful contribution to WTO reform.

“But at least as important as the ‘what’ of reform is the ‘how’.

“The WTO is now driven by 164 members. I don’t have to tell you how different they are, and how differently they think. A one-size-fits-all recipe will not work.

“We should remember that agreements at the WTO have always sought to accommodate the diversity of our members with flexibilities of different kinds.

“Special and differential treatment (S&D) was one way.

“Member-specific flexibilities was another: subsidy caps, quotas, higher tariffs on certain products, and individual services commitments that open some areas — but not others.

“In short, our agreements always had a way of accepting different contributions from members.

“Our Trade Facilitation Agreement offers a new framework altogether for accommodating diversity among members. It allowed each country to specify the flexibilities and the time they needed to implement the Agreement. And it did so without compromising the high level of ambition that was the final destination.

“An open-minded approach to flexibilities would open up a new era of fruitful work for the organization. And when exploring potential areas for such work, unanimous agreement cannot be a prerequisite for starting conversations at the WTO. It’s as simple as that.

“Not all members will necessarily be ready for a particular conversation or a particular step. That is okay, and absolutely natural. But if full consensus is required to even begin to discuss any issue, this Organization will not survive. I’m glad that this is not where we are today.

“The joint statement initiatives potentially represent one path to a more nimble, flexible WTO. No member is compelled to participate, yet the doors are open to any member willing to join — or willing to leave.

“Plurilateral agreements have been with us since day one. But the fact is that any new flexible non-multilateral arrangement — whether it is the JSIs or something similar — will inevitably raise important practical and systemic questions.

“Multilateralising their results may not always be possible. But limiting their application to signatories leads us to many grey areas. There will be many systemic questions, and the answers will differ, I suppose, from case to case. I’m sure you will be able to find them.

“But even before you get to that point, you will need to get past the most common question I hear in discussions about such arrangements. And that question is: “Won’t this approach compromise multilateralism?”

“That’s a big question. But my answer would be: “This approach is the only way we can save trade multilateralism.”

“And in this Brave New World of ours, predictable and updated rules are of enormous value. They will be pursued, believe me. If not in the WTO, then in other less representative forums. And if governments are unwilling or unable to define the rules of the game, then these rules will be set by private parties — even less representative, and even less likely to deliver gains for everyone. We would all be better served if these rules, if these parameters, are negotiated at the WTO’s large table.

“Then again, we know that agreements reached at the WTO have historically been valued for their enforceability through the dispute settlement mechanism. And here, too, we have a problem.

“We all know where we are with the appeals stage of that mechanism. Finding a solution is not particularly hard, if you all truly want a solution. And in this regard, I’m not sure this is where things stand.

“There are stop-gap solutions out there. Some of you are moving in that direction already. Nevertheless, the fact that we are not in a position to agree on the means of enforcing our agreements speaks volumes.

“Whatever decision you take on this, I would argue that a dysfunctional dispute settlement mechanism introduces an unacceptable asymmetry in the system. This asymmetry is to the particular detriment of the smaller and more vulnerable parties to any dispute. I don’t think we can simply sweep this under the rug, and it must remain a priority for WTO members to address.

“I’m sure that much of what I’ve said today is not news to you. I have made many of these points on previous occasions. Nonetheless, I thought I should clearly spell out what I think the most critical challenges and the more promising avenues are. And to the extent I have been able to facilitate and encourage some of this new thinking during my tenure as Director-General, I have been happy to do so.

“All these innovative approaches are just a start, I would say, but a very promising start. Members now have a foundation on which to build new rules and standards, without ever forgetting the multilateral track and the fundamental issues that must still be addressed more fully.

“We’ve achieved a lot and we must be proud of that. But much remains to be done.

“I wish the next Director-General every success in addressing these and other challenges. I will certainly be supportive of your efforts and will be a passionate advocate for the system wherever the future takes me.

“As I said earlier, the WTO has been an integral part of my life. Over the past 23 years, I have made life-long friends among delegates, peers — including you yourself, Mr Chairman — and the Secretariat.

“Speaking of the Secretariat, I want you to know that we have within these premises nearly 700 souls who dedicate their careers to serving you, members, with commitment, professionalism, and a degree of excellence that you will not find anywhere else. I knew that before, and my time as DG confirmed everything I said. I am privileged to have worked with them and you are fortunate to be supported by people of such calibre.

“I would like to extend special thanks to my deputies — Alan, Fred, Karl and Xiaozhun — for their wise counsel and active engagement with members and the wider trade community. And I want to thank each and every member of the Secretariat, both those who worked closely with me, including past and present members of my office, and those that I unfortunately didn’t get to see as much. Without you, we would not be the organization we are.

“On the subject of support, I must find a very special place for my family — which is growing by the minute. In both the good moments and the difficult ones, they have all been great enthusiasts for the WTO project. Our fantastic daughters, Paula and Luisa, who with their dear husbands, Andre and Thiago, have given us five beautiful granddaughters: Alice, Olivia, Eva, and the twins Catarina and Isabela. My mom, Normisa, with her unconditional love and advocacy. My equally loving “other” mom, Maria, who raised me as surely as my blood relatives. My father and brother, Renato and Claudio, who are no longer here, but who are always here. And my wife, Lelé, without whom none of this would have happened, who has always been there to help me reach higher and catch me when I fall.

“Regardless of what has or has not been achieved over the years, this human connection with all of you is what I prize the most. These deep and fundamental connections never disappear. So I’m sure that this is not a farewell. This is, as we say in Brazil, just a “tchau”.

“Thank you all for your strength, your companionship, your solidarity, your support and your friendship. Come visit!

“Thank you all once again, and like I said before: Tchau!”