The next director general of the World Trade Organisation will have the weight of the globe on their shoulders. No pressure

The WTO does, or tries to do, two things: broker trade deals and arbitrate on disputes. No easy task in today’s world, writes Hamish McRae

Sunday 06 September 2020 18:54
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International Trade Secretary used keynote speech to warn that staying in European customs union would be a 'complete sell-out' of Britain's interests
International Trade Secretary used keynote speech to warn that staying in European customs union would be a 'complete sell-out' of Britain's interests

Wanted: someone to fill a high-profile job that you are almost bound to fail at, but one of massive importance to the entire world economy.

The job is to be the new head of the World Trade Organisation, and the first round to choose someone to do it starts this Monday. The director general, Roberto Azevêdo, did a competent job insofar as he could, but has left early and with chaos behind. The chaos stems from the stakeholders in the WTO, the economies of the world, being unable to agree on anything, including which of his four deputies should be the interim director general. So they are sharing the job.

As with all of these international posts there are a string of candidates from around the world, including Liam Fox, former UK trade minister until July last year. He would have US support, but that is not the way these decisions are made. Under the strange carve-up established after the Second World War, the head of the International Monetary Fund is always a European, while the head of the World Bank is always an American. But the third of what was planned to be the trio of institutions at the Bretton Woods Conference in 1944, did not take its present shape until 1995. Until then an interim body called the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) – which was simply a legal agreement, but with offices and a secretariat in Geneva – stood in for it.

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