DG selection (reappointment) process off to preemptive start

The selection of the next Director-General of the WTO will officially get underway on 1 December with the nomination process, and incumbent Roberto Azevedo has announced his decision to seek reappointment.

by D. Ravi Kanth

GENEVA: In what seems to be a coordinated development, the WTO General Council chair, Ambassador Harald Neple of Norway, on 3 November issued a “Job” (informal) document laying out the selection process for the next Director-General, in which he has included a letter written by the current Director-General Roberto Azevedo stating that he wants to serve for a second term, according to the document reviewed by the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS).

The three-page Job document issued by the GC chair (Job/GC/109) includes two parts. Part I says, “Since the term of office of the Director-General, Mr Roberto Azevedo, comes to an end on 31 August 2017, the process for the appointment of a Director-General must begin on 1 December 2016.”

“Accordingly, with the present letter I wish to formally notify Members of the opening of the appointment process as from 1 December,” the GC chair said.

“The Procedures also provide that where a serving Director-General decides to seek reappointment, he should so notify the General Council Chair before the start of the process, and shall thereby be considered to be a candidate,” Neple said. “The Chair should inform Members of the candidature of the incumbent Director-General, in order that they may take this into consideration in submitting their nominations.”

“Accordingly, I wish to inform Members that I have received a communication from the Director-General (copy attached) notifying me of his decision to seek reappointment for a further term,” the GC chair said.

The chair informed members about how he will be assisted in the appointment process by the chairs of the Dispute Settlement Body and the Trade Policy Review Body acting as facilitators: “They will be, during the remainder of my term until February next year, Ambassador Xavier Carim (South Africa) and Ms Irene B. K. Young (Hong Kong, China), respectively.”

Neple has indicated that the appointment process will begin with nominations, where members will have one month to nominate their candidates, i.e., from 1 to 31 December 2016.

“In order to ensure that they are properly received and distributed, nominations and supporting information should be submitted to me either by hand or sent to the above address only by express mail, registered mail or courier service (Swiss Post, DHL, FedEx, UPS, TNT, DPD, etc.) ... In line with the official and confidential nature of the nomination process, please note that nominations and supporting information received by e-mail or fax will NOT be accepted,” the GC chair maintained.

Since the WTO starts its yearend closure on 23 December inclusive, “nominations during the period of 23-31 December should be sent only by express mail, registered mail or courier service (Swiss Post, DHL, FedEx, UPS, TNT, DPD, etc.)”, he said.

Subsequently, the chair along with the chairs of the Dispute Settlement Body and the Trade Policy Review Body will consult with the candidates, including making presentations at the General Council.

Finally, the appointment process will conclude with a General Council meeting convened not later than three months prior to the expiry of the incumbent’s term, i.e., not later than 31 May 2017, at which a decision to appoint the Director-General must be taken.

Director-General’s letter

The GC chair’s Job document also includes a one-page letter by Azevedo in which he informed members as to how the WTO achieved a “great deal” during his term starting from 1 September 2013. “We have demonstrated we can deliver major negotiated outcomes, with the successful conclusion of the ministerial conferences in Bali in 2013 and Nairobi in 2015,” Azevedo said.

(Azevedo often claimed credit that the Bali Ministerial Conference delivered the $1.0 trillion Trade Facilitation Agreement and the Nairobi Ministerial Conference delivered the $1.3 trillion expansion of the Information Technology Agreement. Both these agreements were at the heart of the US trade agenda.)

Azevedo claimed that significant improvements were made in the dispute settlement system and other bodies of the WTO. He said more needs to be done in the global trading system in the coming years for all members, “particularly for developing and least-developed countries.”

On the negotiating front, said Azevedo, “members have committed to advancing the remaining Doha issues, while many have raised other issues for discussion.”

Against this backdrop, he said, he is ready to serve as Director-General for a second term.

The GC chair’s Job document and the one-page statement from Azevedo seem pretty well-coordinated to preempt any likely challenge from other developing countries which feel that the current Director-General singularly and single-handedly worked to promote the priorities of a major industrialized country, said a trade envoy who asked not to be quoted.

Recently, the US Trade Representative Michael Froman showered praise on Azevedo’s role, along with the chair of the Nairobi Ministerial Conference Amina Mohamed, in shaping the outcome of that conference. He praised Mohamed and Azevedo for “shepherding” the process at Nairobi, which he said “represented a critical turning point in the history of the WTO”.

[With the US recently having set a ‘remarkable’  precedent  in  vetoing  a second term for a retiring member of the WTO’s Appellate Body, and subsequently insisting on this right (to say “no” to  a  second term)  for  itself,  it remains to be seen how the Director-General selection process will turn out, adds Chakravarthi Raghavan, Editor Emeritus of  SUNS, in a comment.] (SUNS8348)                                            

Third World Economics, Issue No. 628, 1-15 November 2016, pp5-6