Outgoing WTO Chief Says Trade Body Must Become More Agile To Survive

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) must react more quickly to shocks such as the coronavirus pandemic if it wants to survive.

The body’s outgoing director-general Roberto Azevedo said on Thursday in Geneva.

The Brazilian trade diplomat bows out at the end of August, as the WTO faces multiple challenges including US spats with Chinese and European trade partners, a dysfunctional WTO trade dispute mechanism, and a stand-still in global free trade talks.

His successor, who is set to be chosen by November, should be ready for anything, Azevedo said in a final press conference, pointing to political events, natural disasters or diseases that can disrupt global commerce.

“We need to be faster, we need to respond. The reality on the ground is changing much faster than before,’’ Azevedo said.

He proposed gradual reforms of the WTO to increase its flexibility, rather than a fundamental overhaul that would take years to negotiate.

With the COVID-19 pandemic still strangling global economic and international trade, Azevedo said countries should prepare for the next shock by drawing up a collaborative global crisis mechanism, instead of protecting only their own citizens.

Nigeria, Britain, Egypt, Kenya, Mexico, Moldova, Saudi Arabia and South Korea have fielded candidates to succeed Azevedo, who became WTO chief in 2013.

Azevedo decided to cut his second term short by one year for unspecified personal reasons.

His successor will have to deal with the global recession and trade contraction caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.