As Roberto Azevedo leaves the World Trade Organisation (WTO) this Monday, the institution faces multiple crises without a captain - a situation experts warn could drag on for months.
Any future WTO leader will head an organisation mired in stalled trade talks and struggling to curb trade tensions between the United States and China. It must also help member countries navigate a devastating global economic slump sparked by the coronavirus pandemic.
The global trade body faces relentless attacks from Washington, which has crippled the WTO dispute settlement appeal system and threatened to leave altogether.
Many observers fear that intransigent US positions could paralyse the WTO process of designating a new director general, leaving the organisation leaderless for the foreseeable future.
The US demands that the new DG shares US concerns, many of which are about addressing concerns related to China, Professor Manfred Elsig, an international relations expert at the World Trade Institute in Bern commented.
Given that the DG is chosen by consensus, this tough stance complicates the selection. The WTO has already presented a timeline for selecting one of eight candidates in the running to replace Azevedo within a few months.
But Prof Elsig warned that the process is already torpedoed. It could well be that many WTO members want to wait until after the (US) election, hoping that the administration changes.
Mr Azevedo's surprise announcement in May that he would end his second WTO term 12 months early forced the organisation to speed up its usually lengthy process of selecting a new leader.
Three Africans, two Europeans, two Asians and one Latin American quickly threw their hats in the ring.
The organisation is due next month to begin three rounds of consultations - dubbed confessionals - in which all member states confidentially voice their preferences, gradually whittling down the list.
The process, based on consensus, is expected to last until mid-November.
But soaring international tensions and growing politicisation of picks to head UN agencies and other international organisations could trip up the tentative timeline.
Members failed last month to pick an acting chief from among four deputy directors - something that is normally a straightforward process.
Brussels and Washington butted heads over whether German Karl Brauner, or American Alan Wolff, should get the job, in what observers say was unprecedented politicisation of an administrative decision.
Ms Elvire Fabry, a researcher at the Jacques Delors Institute, said that the US veto of widely-backed Mr Brauner was first and foremost linked to President Donald Trump's wish to increase the power play towards the European Union ... ahead of the elections.
”Making such a concession, even for an interim (chief), would have been too much for him, she said, adding that Washington might also expect the interim period to be longer than predicted, and does not want to allow a European to settle into the position.”
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