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WTO General Council sets guidelines for DG’s selection

The General Council of the World Trade Organization (WTO) agreed on July 31 on the steps to be taken in the final stage of the process for selecting a successor to departing director-general Roberto Azevêdo. 

The council also agreed to extend the tenure of the four deputy directors-general — Yonov Fred Agah, Karl Brauner, Xiaozhun Yi and Alan Wolff — until a new DG is selected.

Azevêdo announced in May that he would be stepping down on August 31, a year before the expiry of his mandate. General Council chair, David Walker of New Zealand, immediately began the process of determining his successor, in accordance with the procedures for the appointment of the DG that were agreed in December 2002 (WT/L/509).

Following consultations with members, it was agreed that the nomination window for DG candidates would be from June 8 to July 8. In total, eight nominations were received. Each candidate came to Geneva between July 15 and 17 to give presentations and take questions from the General Council. Beginning July to August, the candidates are to engage in the campaign stage of the process in order to “make themselves known to (WTO) members.”

Following the campaign period, which runs until September 7, the final phase of the process will commence. During this third phase, the General Council will seek to narrow the field of candidates through consultations, led by Amb. Walker. The objective is to choose a candidate by a consensus of all WTO members.

The decision taken on July 31 pertains to the so-called Phase 3 of the DG’s selection process. Amb. Walker explained to the members that the steps that had been agreed were in keeping with the 2002 guidelines and with past practice, notably the 2013 process that resulted in the selection of Azevêdo.

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Amb. Walker told WTO members that he, with the Dispute Settlement Body chair Dacio Castillo of Honduras and the Trade Policy Review Body chair Harald Aspelund of Iceland, would meet individually with each WTO member between September 7 and 16. This first round of consultations would be followed by two more, during which the field of candidates would gradually be reduced from eight to five and down to two for the final round.

In the consultations, the chair and his facilitators will ask each delegation the same question: “What are your preferences?” Delegations would be asked to produce a maximum of four preferences in the first round and a maximum of two preferences in the second round. Information obtained during these “confessional” sessions with individual members would, Amb. Walker said, “be treated in the strictest confidence” and members’ preferences would not be revealed. He reiterated that the objective was to narrow the field by identifying those candidates, which were “least likely to attract consensus”.

At the end of each round of the Phase 3 consultations, Amb. Walker and the facilitators would report the outcomes to members at meetings of heads of delegations. The timetable for rounds two and three of the Phase 3 process would be similar to that of stage one, Amb. Walker said.

According to the 2002 guidelines, the key consideration in determining which candidate is best poised to achieve consensus is the “breadth of support” each candidate receives from the members. During the selection process of 2005, breadth of support was defined as “the distribution of preferences across geographic regions and among the categories of members generally recognized in WTO provisions: that is (least developed countries), developing countries and developed countries.”

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Amb. Walker stressed that, as outlined in the 2002 General Council decision, the process would be guided by “the best interests of the Organization, respect for the dignity of the candidates and the members nominating them and by full transparency and inclusiveness at all stages”.


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