The WTO’s effort to select a new leader entered a new stage this week, as the ambassadors from 164-member countries met for private consultations, on who they would support.
Six former WTO officials and trade experts revealed that the politicking in Geneva, Switzerland – WTO headquarters, could be a wild goose chase, as the decisive developments that will shape the future of the embattled global trade organization, are unfolding miles away in Washington, ahead of the November 3 presidential elections.
Although, the support of a particular candidate by the United States is critical; 4 trade experts, including former WTO employees, believe that the Trump administration is unlikely to breathe life into a multilateral body that he once threatened to leave. Donald Trump launched a trade war with China, repeatedly imposed tariffs on US allies, and destroyed WTO’s ability to intervene in disputes, by blocking the appointment of members to its Appellate Body.
David Tinline, a former adviser to Azevedo said, “I find it hard to imagine that the Trump administration would shift tack and do something very positive for the system.’’
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The US Trade Representative (USTR), Robert Lighthizer, had in June told US lawmakers that, “the WTO needed a reform-driven leader and that he would veto any candidate who showed any whiff of anti-Americanism.”
The former WTO officials and trade experts said that the US-China economic conflict is a further divisive factor, as both countries will likely reject any candidate backed by the other.
The 8 candidates in contention for the top job, are expected to be trimmed down to 5 after the first confessional meetings on September 16. This will be further cut down to 2, and the final decision designed to be taken by convention before the November 7 deadline – just four days after the US elections.
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Aside from the two influential African women vying for the role, Liam Fox, Britain’s former Trade Secretary, is a force to reckon with. If a favorite candidate does not emerge, some WTO members might prefer to wait until after the US election in case Joe Biden wins the US presidential election; especially, as Voting, seen as a last resort, has never occurred in WTO’s history.
A former member of WTO, Peter Van Den Bossche said, “They could play a waiting game, but that would push the decision until at least February or March 2021.”
Even though WTO is member-led, a strong leader who can facilitate decision making, and galvanize its 164 member nations, is crucial to reviving a severely embattled global organization.
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