The Director General leaves office a year early and the reform process is complicated and difficult

  How does the WTO protect free trade?

(Global Hotspot)

  On August 31, the Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Azevedo officially resigned, becoming the first "head" to step down early since the establishment of the WTO in 1995.

  At a time when unilateralism headwinds prevailed and the new crown pneumonia epidemic hit the world economy severely, Azevedo decided to leave one year before the end of his term, making the WTO, which is already in deep trouble, face more variables.

Under the changing circumstances, can the WTO overcome the challenges and move forward through the waves?

The world is concerned about who will take over Azevedo's "baton", and more concerned about where the global multilateral trading system with the WTO at its core will go.

Severe blow to global trade

  On August 31, Azevedo, the sixth director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO), officially resigned, ending his term a year earlier.

  On the same day, Azevedo said on social media that he was "a great honor" to be WTO Director-General and that he will continue to support the multilateral trading system in his future work.

WTO also said goodbye to Azevedo on social media and thanked him for his work as the head of the secretariat and on behalf of the organization over the past seven years.

  Azevedo from Brazil has served as WTO Director-General since September 2013 and was successfully re-elected in 2017, with a term of office until August 31, 2021.

However, on May 14, Azevedo announced in a video conference that he will officially leave his post on August 31 this year.

  Regarding this unexpected decision, Azevedo said it was not for health reasons, nor was it for seeking "political opportunities."

He said that the new crown pneumonia epidemic has slowed down WTO activities and provided a good window for the selection of a new director-general.

His decision "is in the best interest of this organization" and will focus the WTO ministerial meeting next year on reform issues instead of wasting time discussing the appointment of successors.

  "I hope that the new Director-General will bring the kind of energy and endurance I think is urgently needed." Azevedo said that now is the time to inject fresh blood into the WTO.

  On June 8, the WTO started the selection process for the new Director-General.

Currently, the eight nominated candidates are from Mexico, Nigeria, Egypt, Moldova, South Korea, Kenya, the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia.

As the selection process is still going on, members have failed to reach an agreement on the candidate for acting director-general, and the WTO has temporarily entered the "unowned" transitional stage.

  The New York Times commented that Azevedo's departure made the WTO lose a supporter of open trade and international cooperation.

The newspaper quoted the opinions of experts and pointed out that at the moment when the new crown pneumonia epidemic has brought a terrible impact on global trade, the early retirement of the WTO Director-General has become another serious blow.

Reform faces multiple difficulties

  "After entering the 21st century, the development of the WTO is facing great difficulties, and few achievements have been made in the two areas of service trade and intellectual property trade. Especially since the current US government came to power, it has repeatedly expressed dissatisfaction with the WTO and requested It has carried out reforms and even threatened to withdraw from the WTO on the grounds that other countries have taken advantage of the United States. This year, affected by the new crown pneumonia epidemic, global trade has shrunk to a considerable extent and may continue to be sluggish in the next one to two years." Associate Professor Niu Zhongjun of the department analyzed to this reporter that the difficulties faced by its own development, the resistance to reforms, and the impact of the epidemic on the global economy, are like many mountains weighing on the WTO, becoming Azevedo resigning ahead of schedule. Important background.

  Lu Xiankun, executive director of the Geneva Lecco Consulting Center, also believes that at present, the three functions of WTO dispute settlement, multilateral trade negotiations and trade policy supervision are hindered, and there is no clear idea for the organization's own reform.

Azevedo's early departure may be related to these factors.

  In recent years, the normal operation of the WTO has encountered many difficulties.

After the suspension of the Doha Round of negotiations in 2015, WTO members have not yet reached any major international trade agreements.

In the last 12 years, the WTO Appellate Body "shut down", which caused a serious blow to the dispute settlement mechanism, one of the three pillars of the organization.

In his speech to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the WTO this year, Azevedo said that the WTO is currently facing huge challenges and all members need to work together to overcome the difficulties.

  However, the unevenness of the people is a major shackle that hinders the development and reform of the WTO.

Chong Quan, chairman of the China WTO Research Association, said that WTO members have both common interests and significant differences on reform issues, which makes reform destined to be a complex and arduous process.

  At the same time, unilateralism and trade protectionism continue to show signs of rising.

Analysis generally believes that, for whatever reason, Azevedo’s early curtain call can be regarded as an impact on confidence in the multilateral trading system, which not only exposes the real dilemma facing the WTO, but also makes people more worried about its prospects. .

Three major problems must be faced

  Azevedo said on the day of his official departure that the WTO reform process must continue and that the system must continue to respond to the needs of the international community.

Some analysts have pointed out that no matter who will "take over", he must face three major problems: eliminating the differences of interests among member states, restraining the hegemonic behavior and unilateralism of the superpowers, and promoting WTO self-reform.

  "How will the original international economic and trade rules adapt to the new environment under the epidemic? The WTO will become a microcosm of the development of the future international economic and trade pattern." Niu Zhongjun pointed out that in recent years, the United States and other Western countries want to start anew and establish a framework outside the WTO. The new free trade system dominated by the West.

In this context, regional trade agreements such as the TPP and the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement have emerged one after another.

"In the future, can the global free trade system continue to be maintained and avoid being completely replaced by regional free trade agreements? The development of WTO will become a weather vane."

  Although there are many challenges, it seems that at this difficult time when the global economy is hit by the epidemic, the WTO's role as a global multilateral trade coordination mechanism is still important.

The British "Guardian" quoted an academic research result as saying that the WTO's revenue for its 164 members in one year reached 855 billion US dollars. On average, each member country's GDP increased by 4.5%.

  "Even if the cold wind of protectionism and unilateralism blows from time to time, even if the massive and grouping game of global trade rules seriously hinders the process of economic globalization, and significantly increases bilateral or multilateral trade frictions and transaction costs, the WTO has no reason. Self-marginalization.” Zhang Yugui, Dean of the School of International Finance and Trade of Shanghai International Studies University, pointed out that the WTO is promoting fair competition in trade, ensuring the effectiveness of multilateral trading mechanisms, and enabling each member to provide facilitation to each other in a level playing field. Historical contributions have been made in trade and services.

After the outbreak of the new crown epidemic, the digitization of global trade has greatly accelerated.

In the digital trade era, the WTO still has ample room for action in accelerating e-commerce negotiations, strengthening the digital construction of cross-border trade in goods and services, and narrowing the "digital divide".

  As Azevedo said: "Crisis is an eternal proposition that accompanies the WTO." Next, can the WTO look for opportunities in crisis and continue to be the "guardian" of global free trade?

The new Director-General has a long way to go.

  Our reporter Yan Yu