Much remains to be done: Outgoing WTO head

The outgoing chief of the World Trade Organization (WTO) said that the body was facing “tremendous pressure,” urging that new rules, reforms and multilateralism could pave the way forward.

In his farewell remarks to the General Council before stepping down on August 31, WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo said the organization had “achieved a lot and we must be proud of that. But much remains to be done”, Xinhua news agency reported on Thursday.

“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.”

The Brazilian career diplomat announced in May that he would end his second term 12 months earlier after serving seven years at the helm of the Geneva-based organization. Eight candidates are currently battling to succeed Azevedo and have made their pitches to the General Council.

Many of the WTO’s 164 members are urging sweeping reforms of the multilateral institution.

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

The Trump administration has paralyzed the appellate body, the WTO’s dispute resolution mechanism, since last December by blocking the appointment of new judges.

In his last press conference, Azevedo told reporters: “Without a properly functioning dispute settlement system, the WTO is not going to perform its role adequately.”

“I don’t believe that a ‘big bang’ reform is the way forward. We need to do things progressively,” he said.

“The rules we negotiated back in the 1980s and signed into force in 1994 are still very relevant and much-needed,” he said.

“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,” Azevedo added.

The WTO in April forecast that global trade would drop by between 13 percent and 32 percent in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupts normal economic activity and life around the world.