A memo to Roberto Azevêdo’s prospective successor

【双语】换位子 Trading places-书迷号 shumihao.com

SO YOU WANT to be the next director-general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). If successful, you will lead one of the world’s big multilateral institutions and rub shoulders with heads of state. The tax-free salary and benefits are cushy. But that is where the perks end. Here is what you can expect from the job.


Trade in goods could fall by as much as a third this year. Even before covid-19, the trade rule book was in tatters. The pandemic seems set to make protectionist barriers rise even faster. Australia and China are squaring off. This, you might think, is your moment to shine. You might hope to broker grand deals, or, at the very least, to fix the WTO’s system of settling disputes.


We suggest you manage those expectations—all the way down. Roberto Azevêdo, the departing director-general, was respected by members. But he found his diary emptying faster than a shipping broker’s order book. “There’s nothing happening in terms of regular work” at the WTO, he told Bloomberg recently. He is leaving a year before his term’s up. Forget building a new architecture of the global trading system, or haranguing members into lowering tariffs. If the WTO’s members do not want something, it will not happen. Your job instead is to focus on the smaller fry. Talks to limit subsidies for fisheries were the only ones going anywhere in recent months. Full steam ahead? Afraid not. They stalled on May 7th.

我们还是建议您控制住这样的期望——把它们放到最低。即将离任的总干事罗伯托·阿泽维多(Roberto Azevêdo)过去受到成员们的尊重,但他发现自己日程本的清空速度比货运经纪的订单还快。近期他对彭博社表示:“WTO在常规工作方面毫无进展。”他将提前一年结束任期。请您放弃打造全球贸易体系新架构的想法,也别想着能靠长篇大论、慷慨陈词说服成员国降低关税。成员国不想要的东西实现不了。相反,您的工作应该是专注于一些小鱼小虾。限制渔业补贴的谈判是近几个月来唯一有所进展的工作。是全速前进了吗?恐怕没有。这些谈判在5月7日也陷入了停滞。

You will discover that the WTO would be a marvellous institution were it not for its members. The poor ones want exemptions from rules that have not yet been written. The rich ones are loth to make the concessions needed to get anything done. Some of America’s lawmakers want to withdraw from the organisation (a “relic”) altogether. You might find yourself wishing they just got on with it. But their heft makes them useful, when they choose to be.


Be cautious, like Mr Azevêdo, and you will be accused of getting too little done. Be ambitious, and, like his predecessor Pascal Lamy, you will be attacked for alienating members—and also for getting too little done. Best to expand your definition of success to include vaguely worded joint statements calling for free and fair trade.

如果像阿泽维多那样谨慎行事,您会被指责无所作为。如果像他的前任帕斯卡尔·拉米(Pascal Lamy)那样雄心勃勃,您又会因为开罪成员国而遭受攻击——以及被指责无所作为。最好拓宽对政绩的定义,把措辞含糊的呼吁自由公平贸易的联合声明也算在里头。

To become a candidate, a member must put you forward before July 8th. The winner must be agreeable to America, Europe and China. If such a person even exists, it probably won’t be one of their own. Perhaps that clears the way for the first African boss. Names being floated include Amina Mohamed, Kenya’s former WTO ambassador, and Yonov Frederick Agah, a Nigerian and Mr Azevêdo’s deputy.

要成为总干事候选人,必须有一个成员国在7月8日前提名您。胜出的必须是美国、欧洲和中国都认可的人。如果真有这样的人,大概不会来自这三个地方。也许这为WTO选出首位非洲总干事扫除了障碍。被提出的人选包括肯尼亚前WTO大使阿米娜·穆罕默德(Amina Mohamed)和阿泽维多的副手、尼日利亚人尤努夫·弗雷德里克·阿加(Yonov Frederick Agah)。

The Americans and the Europeans say they want to arrange a speedy replacement for Mr Azevêdo, who leaves on August 31st. But if the WTO’s past trade rounds are a guide, resolution won’t be swift. Many members will stall, in case Donald Trump loses America’s presidential election. Prepare to wait for months, even years.


A quick approval, against those odds, could mean that members want to save the institution. Or it could mean that you are bland enough that no one could rouse themselves to object to your appointment: a sorry form of comparative advantage. ■