The director-general of the World Trade Organization is the officer of the World Trade Organization (WTO) responsible for supervising and directing the organization's administrative operations. Since the World Trade Organization's decisions are made by member states, through either a Ministerial Conference or through the General Council, the director-general has little power over matters of policy – the role is primarily advisory and managerial in nature. The director-general supervises the WTO secretariat of about 700 staff and is appointed by WTO members for a term of four years.

Although it's said that the director-general of the WTO is a role primarily advisory and managerial in nature, it's said it's primarily and doesn't deny that she has some power over matters of policy. However, it's never explained what are her powers over policy if any. It's said she has little power, so she does have some power. I am curious to know what kind of power over policy she yields.

1 Answer 1


Administrative soft power.

The Director-General is in charge of the Secretariat of the WTO, and so has final say as to who is doing the work of the WTO. This gives them implicit influence in the sorts of work that gets done there, including the sorts of statements that get released, the studies that get funded, and so on.

Beyond this, however, the Director-General of the WTO is an international high-profile officeholder with a presumed expertise in their field. They hold that office because the WTO members selected the Director-General, it is reasonable to presume that they believe this person to be smart and expert enough for the role. As such, when they speak, they should be expected to have the ears of the WTO membership. This is why, for example, the D-G develops the WTO's budget and sends it to the Ministerial Conference, instead of the Ministerial Conference deciding what the WTO Secretariat's budget will be. Part of the job is literally investigating what needs to be done, and reporting back.

Essentially their influence over policy is similar to that of a Chief Executive Officer's power to influence policy in a corporation: Yes, it's actually the Board of Directors that makes the final call, but the CEO is the person who is most familiar with the issues at hand, and so what they have to say on the matter is persuasive by default.

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