WTO to make announcement about chief amid reports he will resign

The World Trade Organization will make an announcement Thursday about its Director-General Roberto Azevedo, a spokesman said, following reports he is planning to step down before his term expires next year.

“The WTO will have an announcement on this matter following the heads of delegation meeting” at 1400 GMT, spokesman Keith Rockwell said in an email statement sent to AFP, adding that no further comment would be made before then.

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His comment came after Bloomberg reported that Azevedo had told governments he planned to step down before the end of his mandate, with the news agency suggesting he would leave on September 1.

The 62-year-old Brazilian career diplomat first took the reins of the global trade body in 2013 and his second term is due to end in 2021.

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Several diplomats confirmed to AFP that they had been hastily called to take part in a meeting Thursday on “pressing administrative matters”.

Azevedo’s possible early departure would come at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed the global economy and international trade into turmoil, suffering slowdowns not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Global trade, already hit by trade tensions and uncertainties around Brexit, is expected to register “double-digit declines in trade volumes” in nearly all regions this year, the WTO said last month.

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The organisation was meanwhile already in crisis before the pandemic hit, amid raging trade wars and as the United States under President Donald Trump has pushed for dramatic reforms of the Geneva-based body.

The WTO was, for instance, forced to put its dispute settlement appeal system on ice last December after Washington blocked the appointment of new judges, preventing it from reaching a three-judge quorum.

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Azevedo, who before his appointment as WTO chief spent five years as his country’s ambassador to the organisation, has enjoyed a reputation as a consensus-builder.

During his first term he dedicated much energy to trying to unblock long-deadlocked trade agreements.

In 2014 managed to help secure the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA), in which nations agreed to simplify and standardise customs procedures at borders to make it easier for goods to flow around the world.

But countries have since then failed to reach any further multilateral agreements, including on fisheries subsidies, and since 2017, the WTO has struggled to deal with a US administration openly hostile to its multilateral approach.

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