Head of crisis-hit WTO to step down a year early

Geneva/Riyadh, May 14 (efe-epa).- The director-general of the crisis-hit World Trade Organization – the governing body of international trade – said Thursday he will step down on Aug. 31, a year before the scheduled end of his second term.

“This is a decision that I do not take lightly,” 62-year-old Brazilian Roberto Azevedo said in a teleconference with representatives of the Geneva-based WTO’s 164 countries and territories. “It is a personal decision – a family decision – and I am convinced that this decision serves the best interests of this organization.”

Azevedo is resigning at a time of unprecedented crisis for the WTO, whose ability to resolve international trade disputes (its main function) has been paralyzed by the United States’ moves to block the appointment of new judges to that organization’s Appellate Body (WTOAB).

The US had long complained about the WTOAB for repeatedly ruling against American anti-dumping tariffs aimed at protecting domestic producers.

On April 30, China, the European Union and other WTO members responded to the US blockage by launching an alternate dispute resolution body.

But they said then that the “interim appeal arrangement is not intended to supplant the WTO’s Appellate Body.

Separately Thursday, ministers from the G-20 group of the world’s largest economies announced a package of short- and long-term measures aimed at alleviating the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on global trade and investment, including an overhaul of the WTO.

The document titled “G-20 Actions to Support World Trade and Investment in Response to COVID-19” and issued after a virtual Trade and Investment Ministerial Meeting offers short-term responses designed to alleviate the impact of the coronavirus-triggered global economic crisis.

Among other things, the document says the countries that make up the G-20, whose rotating presidency is held by Saudi Arabia, should “refrain from introducing export restrictions on agricultural products … and avoid unnecessary food-stockpiling, without prejudice to domestic food security,” while also speeding up and streamlining customs procedures.

Additionally, it proposes encouraging “G-20 transport ministers to enhance air, land and marine connectivity and work with the private sector to prioritize movement of essential goods.”

The proposed long-term actions include promoting the “necessary” reform of the WTO to “improve its functioning and support the role of the multilateral trading system in promoting stability and predictability of international trade flows.”

Another long-term proposal calls for encouraging investment in the production of medical supplies, medical equipment and personal protective equipment and encouraging government agencies to work with companies and investors in identifying investment opportunities and activities.

In an earlier March 30 virtual extraordinary meeting on the coronavirus crisis, the G-20 trade and investment ministers said they were actively working to “ensure the continued flow of vital medical supplies and equipment … as well as ways to facilitate essential movement of health personnel and businesspeople across borders, without undermining the efforts to prevent the spread of the virus.”

The G-20 is made up of Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union. EFE-EPA

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