Coronavirus: WTO head resigns a year earlier as slowdown looms

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Roberto Azevedo, Director General of the World Trade Organization.

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The head of the World Trade Organization said he would resign a year earlier than expected, at a crucial time for the world economy.

Roberto Azevedo’s surprise departure comes as the WTO faces the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and criticism from US President Donald Trump.

World trade has collapsed and the world is prepared for the worst recession since the Great Depression.

Meanwhile, Trump has accused the body of treating America unfairly.

Azevedo said his early departure as director general of the WTO was a “personal decision” that was in the best interest of the organization.

“The WTO may not be perfect, but it is still essential. This is what keeps us from living in a world where the law of the jungle reigns, at least as far as trade is concerned. “

The Trump administration has repeatedly accused the watchdog of world trade of having derogated from its objective of liberalizing and protecting the markets, and that the conditions surrounding China’s entry into the organization in 2001 led to millions of job losses in the United States.

Asked about Mr. Azevedo’s exit, Mr. Trump, who had previously said that the United States would leave the organization if it did not change, said he “agreed”.

“We were treated very badly … They treat China as a developing country. As a result, China has many advantages that the United States does not get, “he added.

Azevedo’s departure comes at a particularly difficult time for the WTO, as global trade is expected to drop to historic lows as measures to slow the spread of Covid-19 halt economic activity around the world.

At the same time, the Geneva-based body last year saw one of its main functions, arbitrating trade disputes, hindered by the United States.

Washington’s WTO dispute has prevented it from appointing judges to the organization’s highest court, called the Appellate Body, since December 2019. This means it has too few officials to rule on the main trade disputes between countries.

Along with the United States, other WTO members, including Japan and the European Union, have pushed for the WTO to carry out far-reaching reforms.

They argue that the rules of world trade must reflect new realities, including the rise of China as a powerful economy, and tackle issues such as state subsidies and forced technology transfers.

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