Director-General Azevêdo announced in May that he would be stepping down on 31 August, a year before the expiry of his mandate. General Council Chair David Walker of New Zealand immediately began the process of determining his successor in accordance with the procedures for the appointment of the Director-General that were agreed by the General Council in December 2002 (WT/L/509).
Following consultations with members, it was agreed that the nominating window for DG candidates would run from 8 June to 8 July. In total, eight nominations were received. Each candidate came to Geneva between 15 and 17 July to give presentations to and take questions from the General Council. During July and August, the candidates are engaging in the campaign stage of the process in order to “make themselves known to (WTO) Members”.
Following the campaign period, which runs until 7 September, the final phase of the process will commence. During this third phase, the General Council will seek to narrow the field of candidates through consultations led by Amb. Walker. The objective is to choose a candidate by a consensus of all WTO members.
The decision taken on 31 July pertains to the so-called Phase 3 of the DG selection process. Amb. Walker explained to the members that the steps that had been agreed were in keeping with the 2002 Guidelines and with past practice, notably the 2013 process which resulted in the selection of DG Azevêdo.
Amb. Walker told WTO members that he, together with the Dispute Settlement Body Chair Dacio Castillo of Honduras and the Trade Policy Review Body Chair Harald Aspelund of Iceland, would meet individually with each WTO member between 7 and 16 September. This first round of consultations would be followed by two more, during which the field of candidates would gradually be reduced from eight to five and down to two for the final round.
In these consultations, the chair and his facilitators will ask each delegation the same question: “What are your preferences?” Delegations would be asked to produce a maximum of four preferences in the first round and a maximum of two preferences in the second round. Information obtained during these “confessional” sessions with individual members would, Amb. Walker said, “be treated in the strictest confidence” and members’ preferences would not be revealed. He reiterated that the objective was to narrow the field by identifying those candidates which were “least likely to attract consensus”.
At the end of each round of the Phase 3 consultations, Amb. Walker and the facilitators would report the outcomes to members at meetings of heads of delegations. The timetable for rounds two and three of the Phase 3 process would be similar to that of stage one, Amb. Walker said.
According to the 2002 Guidelines, the key consideration in determining which candidate is best poised to achieve consensus is the “breadth of support” each candidate receives from the members. During the DG selection process of 2005, breadth of support was defined as “the distribution of preferences across geographic regions and among the categories of members generally recognized in WTO provisions: that is (least developed countries), developing countries and developed countries”.
Amb. Walker stressed that, as outlined in the 2002 General Council decision, the process would be guided by “the best interests of the Organization, respect for the dignity of the candidates and the members nominating them and by full transparency and inclusiveness at all stages”.
The decision to extend the terms of the four Deputy Directors-General came after consultative efforts had been made to designate one of them as Acting Director-General until a new Director-General takes office. Amb. Walker explained once again to members that choosing an Acting Director-General was “very much a housekeeping matter to facilitate the continued running of the organization” as the membership focused on choosing the new Director-General.
But consultations did not yield a consensus on which of the four should be designated as Acting Director-General, so Amb. Walker proposed instead that all four DDGs stay on and continue their existing responsibilities until such time as the new Director-General takes office. During this period, all four DDGs will consult closely with the members as represented by the General Council chair. Amb. Walker underscored that during this interim phase, no structural changes will be made to the WTO Secretariat. Amb. Walker also stated that he remained open to consult with members.