Trading Places: The Politics of the WTO Director-General Selection and the Implications for the EU Trade Strategy

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UNU Institute on Comparative Regional Integration Studies
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Moments that could become critical junctures in interregional economic integration and that would at the same time be predictable are uncommon in international relations. However, the election of a new Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in the midst of the world’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent ripples of a latent, yet mounting tide of protectionism in trade policy appears to resemble exactly such a critical juncture.

This policy brief centres around the election of the new Director-General of the WTO and explores its consequences for multilateral global governance of trade policy. Introducing the selection process and building upon a brief stock-taking exercise of relevant primary and secondary sources, the policy brief explores current tensions within the WTO that the new Director-General will face. Furthermore, the policy brief considers the implications such tensions have for the European Union’s approach to the election process and trade policy. The policy brief suggests that the European Union should, as an actor touting multilateral approaches and rules-based global governance mechanisms, support the capacities of the WTO Secretariat, focus on securing multilateral buy-in for plurilateral agreements, and make use of the geopoliticisation of trade to support multilateral approaches to trade policy.