U.S. Rice Industry Has Vested Interest in WTO Leadership Change

WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo sits at table with name plate and "WTO" on wall in background
Stepping down in August
Jul 22, 2020
WASHINGTON, DC -- The World Trade Organization (WTO), the United Nations body serving as the forum for ensuring world trade moves fairly and smoothly, has begun its process to find a new director-general (DG), following the announcement by current Director-General Roberto Azevêdo that he will step down at the end of August.  For the WTO, having been hit with criticism from many countries, selecting the right person to be the face of the organization going forward is critical.

Eight candidates have been nominated by their home nations of Mexico, Nigeria, Egypt, Moldova, South Korea, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, and the United Kingdom.  Last week marked the beginning of Phase II of the appointment process, a 2-month long opportunity for candidates to campaign for the job.  The candidates begin the election process with a “speed dating” exercise with WTO members during a 3-day session where they present their vision for the future of the WTO.  If the process goes as planned, a new DG is expected to be elected in November.

Upon taking office, the new director-general will face major challenges to restore the stability and legitimacy of the WTO, including reestablishing the dispute settlement body and appeals systems.  While the DG does not hold any formal power and cannot vote or force governments to take a particular action, they wield a great deal of soft power to facilitate plurilateral negotiations and establish the trust required to successfully move the organization forward.  Experts suggest the new leader will need to have both technical knowledge and sound political judgement, as well as the drive and flexibility to address the problems facing the WTO – U.S.-China trade tensions, rising trade barriers, and the breakdown of the appellate body – that have all been amplified due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The WTO remains a valuable tool for the U.S. since its inception in 1995, despite occasional friction regarding process and administration over the years.  With an ever more connected global trading system, major growth in economic powers such as China and India, and several trade agreements either currently under negotiation or on deck, the U.S. will likely need an overarching body to help ensure nations adhere to national and international regulations.

“The U.S. rice industry saw two important wins against China last year that help to justify our messaging and calls for a level global playing field,” said USA Rice Vice President of International Trade Policy Peter Bachmann.  “The precedent those cases set may prove even more useful in future cases that ensure the world’s rice exporters are playing by the rules and better ensure the U.S. rice industry is operating on equal footing with our competitors.”

Bachmann added, “The U.S. government has not yet announced support for any specific candidate, but we know that individual will have to be someone who is looking to modernize and reform the WTO while maintaining its basic mission.  We are optimistic a new DG will help bring stability and leadership to the organization in the face of unprecedented global challenges.”

The WTO is expected to soon settle on an interim chief, which will be selected from the four existing deputy director generals hailing from China, Germany, Nigeria, and the United States.