Roberto Azevedo, a 62-year-old Brazilian, said he will step down August 31 as WTO director-general, ending a seven-year tenure marked in recent years by intense pressure from President Donald Trump, who repeatedly accused the Geneva-based trade body of "unfair" treatment of the United States and launched a trade war with China in defiance of the WTO system.
He has been Director-General at the Geneva-based trade body since 2013 and was on a second term of office.
"As members start to shape the WTO's agenda for the new post-COVID realities, they should do so with a new director-general", he told a virtual meeting of national members on Thursday afternoon.
Phil Hogan, the European Union commissioner for trade, said Azevedo's departure gives the WTO the opportunity to address its "many challenges" and he said that has to happen quickly.
Also on the show: almost 3 million people applied for jobless benefits in the United States last week, bringing the total for the last two months to over 36 million. In order to reform the WTO, consensus from its 164 member countries is required.
Its members are negotiating an agreement to cut subsidies for fishing to allow a revival of depleted fish stocks, while a smaller group are discussing a possible deal on e-commerce.
The WTO has reserved any comments till the end of this meeting. That has now been pushed back to mid- or late-2021.
In defending the organisation, Azevedo said: "The WTO may not be ideal, but it is indispensable all the same".
"It is essential that we quickly chart a new path ahead at this critical and uncertain time for trade. He will be hard to replace", Lighthizer said.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer thanked Azevedo for his "exemplary" service.
Simon Evenett, professor of worldwide trade and economic development at Switzerland's University of St. Gallen, said the next director-general would need to put the WTO back together again.
"The lack of leadership in strategic planning and policy-making is the major problem in the WTO", Steger, a senior fellow at the Centre of International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, Ont., said in a statement.