General Council Chair Amb. Dacio Castillo (Honduras)

When will WTO DG Okonjo-Iweala reveal choices for Deputy Directors-General?

Today, March 31, 2021, marks the end of the tenure of the four existing Deputy Directors-General of the WTO. Normally, an incoming Director-General would have identified his/her choices for the four Deputy Director-General slots ahead of assuming office himself/herself. See, e.g., March 6, 2021, WTO’s four Deputy Directors-General tenure reportedly concludes at the end of March 2021 — thanks for an outstanding job, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/06/wtos-four-deputy-directors-general-tenure-reportedly-concludes-at-the-end-of-march-2021-thanks-for-an-outstanding-job/ ( “It is normal for existing Deputy Directors-Generals (DDGs) to depart shortly after the arrival of a new Director-General and to be selected before the new Director-General takes office. Indeed, typically DDGs have four year terms that start one month after the Director-General’s term. Pursuant to procedures adopted in late 2002, DDGs employment starts later and ends later than the DG’s. See PROCEDURES FOR THE APPOINTMENT OF DIRECTORS-GENERAL, Adopted by the General Council on 10 December 2002, WT/L/509 (20 January 2003) at para. 22 (‘In order to ensure continuity at the senior management level, the terms of office of the Director-General and of the Deputy Directors-General shall be staggered, such that the terms of the Deputies expire subsequent to the expiry of the Director-General’s term.’). Because of the short time from appointment (February 15, 2021) to start (March 1, 2021) as Director-General for Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, presumably the DDG selection process was delayed until after she took up her position on March 1.”).

With less than eight months til the 12th Ministerial Conference at the end of November in Geneva, there is a great deal of work to be done if the Ministerial Conference is going to be successful. As reviewed in a WTO press release of March 30, DG Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala spoke at an informal General Council meeting on March 30. See WTO, Director-General urges WTO members to deliver concrete results this year, 30 March 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/dgno_30mar21_e.htm. The press release reviews her comments and those of General Council Chair Ambassador Dacio Castillo (Honduras) and is copied below.

“The meeting was called by General Council Chair Ambassador Dacio Castillo (Honduras) to initiate a process of consultations on the nature of the prospective outcome document for the Twelfth Ministerial Conference (MC12), which will take place in Geneva the week of 29 November.

“He described the options in front of members, based on the documents that emerged from earlier Ministerial Conferences: a consensus Ministerial Declaration, a summary issued under the conference chair’s own responsibility, and a ‘hybrid’ document containing elements of the two.

“Members ‘may wish to start thinking about what type of outcome document we might realistically envisage for MC12, including its structure and elements,’ the General Council Chair added, announcing he would begin consultations on these issues with interested delegations. He cautioned that this process should not divert attention from ongoing substantive negotiations.

“With only seven working months until MC12, DG Okonjo-Iweala called on members to “create a recipe for success upfront,” starting with “two or three or four concrete deliverables” in areas such as fisheries and agreeing on work programmes for other items where differences remain.

“She noted that MC12 would come at the end of a series of international policy discussions aimed at ‘examining the lessons from this pandemic and trying to put the framework for tackling the next.’ If trade ministers emerge at the end of the year ‘with no agreement, no contributions to the meaningful issues that are being faced by the world today, nothing to add in terms of a framework for tackling the next pandemic, it will not look good.’

”’My wish is for all the Ambassadors, Ministers and Leaders on trade to come out of MC12 looking good. Looking good means being seen by the world as having delivered for today’s problems,’ she said.

“DG Okonjo-Iweala also said that she plans to convene an event in mid-April to discuss ramping up COVID-19 vaccine production and how the WTO can contribute to a more rapid and equitable distribution of vaccines.

“The event, to be held under Chatham House rules, will include all regional member groups, representatives from vaccine manufacturers from developing and developed countries, civil society groups working on access to medicine, and other relevant stakeholders.

“‘The idea is to move us along on our quest to solve this unacceptable inequitable access of poor countries to vaccines,’ she said. ‘At the bottom of this is a very serious scarcity in supply. And how to solve it is to look at how we expand manufacturing in all its ways.’

“She stressed that the event would help advance global discussions on access to vaccines. She expressed hope both for increased vaccine manufacturing in the short- to medium-term, and a longer-term framework agreement that would provide for automatic access to vaccines and other medical products for developing countries in future health crises, including a way forward on the TRIPS waiver proposal many of them support.

“‘We also need to look to the future and agree a framework where countries do not need to stand in the queue in order to get access to life-saving vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics,’ she said, emphasizing that this can be done while still incentivizing research and development.”

Obviously, having a full team, including the four Deputy Directors-General, on board to help facilitate work by Members on items of interest to the Members will be critical to permitting the Secretariat to support the WTO Members in their work in these coming months.

In a prior post, I had suggested the need for DG Okonjo-Iweala to pick a team that respects the historical geographical distribution of positions but also to pick individuals with sufficient trade and political gravitas to help the DG achieve the range of initiatives facing the WTO. See February 13, 2021, Leadership change at the WTO — with Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s arrival next week, what support team and early changes in the role of the Secretariat could help WTO Members move forward?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/02/13/leadership-change-at-the-wto-with-dr-ngozi-okonjo-iwealas-arrival-next-week-what-support-team-and-early-changes-in-the-role-of-the-secretariat-could-help-wto-members-move-forward/.

Press reports have indicated that there is, as there always is, a lot of lobbying by Members, on the composition of the Deputy Directors-General. Hopefully DG Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala will announce the new DDGs soon. The Director-General faces many issues with a deeply divided membership. A strong team including at the DDG level will improve the chances that the Secretariat can help the messy process of Member negotiations and moving to reform.