The head of the World Trade Organization, Roberto Azevedo, said on Thursday that he will step down from his position effective August 31 after seven years at the helm of the global trade body.
His second four-year term had been due to end in August 2021. In a statement, he said the decision to resign was personal and the timing allowed for a successor to be chosen well before WTO council meetings next year.
The WTO has come under pressure to justify its relevance after the United States froze its appeals body by blocking appointments of judges for over two years.
The terms of two of the last three judges on the WTO’s appellate body ended on 10 December. Their departure left countries’ trade disputes open as the organisation became unable to issue rulings. Its lower court is still be able to hear cases, but if a country appeals to the higher court, the lower court’s decisions will be irrelevant.
With the WTO’s paralysis, countries could abuse sanctions to limit imports. In order to reform the WTO, consensus from its 164 member countries is required.
In January, as a temporary measure, the EU and 16 WTO members, including China, agreed to establish a body to bypass the United States’ blockage of the WTO’s appeals body. The US is not among the signatories.