Friday (May 15th): Don’t quit on us now!

Roberto Azevêdo

Name? Roberto Azevêdo

Westphalian identity? Brazilian

Age? 62

Why is he in the news?  Azevêdo resigned from his position as chief of the World Trade Organization (WTO) over a year before the end of his term.

Why do we care? Because we care about who will follow Azevêdo as chair. Obviously, both the U.S. and China will advocate for someone with their interests in mind but will other countries allow them to do so? Will they be able to stop or counter either country’s bullying or bias from their home offices? As with everything these days, time will tell…

Why should you care? Because the WTO, the World Bank, the IMF and a number of other international institutions have called for countries to reduce their trade barriers and enhance economic growth where possible. Without a leader at the WTO, it will be much harder to lift these barriers and forge global cooperation.

Who else cares? WTO workers and member states as well as economists and politicians who see Azevêdo’s resignation as a step back for trade liberalization and cooperation during these difficult times.

Any further comments? Azevêdo was known to be frustrated by the ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China as it severely dented global trade the past couple years. With the US’ refusal to allow appointments to the WTO’s appellate body last December, one of the organization’s main functions became virtually nonexistent. Azevêdo was understandably annoyed. Because of this, many (including Trump) believe the WTO to be a biased and useless institution, incapable of making real change. Before leaving office though, Azevêdo made clear his feelings towards this sentiment saying: 

“The WTO may not be perfect, but it is indispensable all the same. It is what keeps us from a world where the law of the jungle prevails, at least as far as trade is concerned.”

Roberto Azevêdo

So without a chief and without a functioning appellate body, the WTO faces an existential crisis; leaving countries to manage agreements and disputes in the jungle.