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According to CGTN News:

The time frame for the election is yet to be decided – Azevedo has said he will leave on 31 August – but the WTO director-general is chosen by consensus by its 164 member states, based on a recommendation from its selection committee.

"The WTO is actually quite a unique organization, because every country has a veto," says Lee-Makiyama.

"Now, we need to find a candidate among the eight who will actually pass the needle's eye through all of the 164 countries."

For the analyst, the most important thing will be consensus among the top dogs in international trade: "Countries like China and the United States, the EU and Japan must agree to the candidate as someone they will be able to work with."

Reading this, it seems that every country must accept a candidate in order for a person to be elected director-general, but what happens if a single country uses its veto power and won't accept the candidate? Is the WTO then frozen in place unable to do anything or will some administrators fill in the role until a director-general is elected?

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The selection process for the Director-General is described by the WTO here. If at the end of a consultation process to narrow the field of candidates by establishing which of them would be least likely to attract consensus at each stage of the consultation, the General Council is unable to come to a unanimous decision on a candidate - an extraordinary decision can be made to appoint the Director-General by a vote of the membership as a last resort.

Recourse to voting as a last resort

  1. If, after having carried out all the procedures set out above, it has not been possible for the General Council to take a decision by consensus by the deadline provided for the appointment, Members should consider the possibility of recourse to a vote as a last resort by a procedure to be determined at that time. Recourse to a vote for the appointment of a Director-General shall be understood to be an exceptional departure from the customary practice of decision-making by consensus, and shall not establish any precedent for such recourse in respect of any future decisions in the WTO.

If the post remains vacant, paragraph 23 is activated:

  1. In the event of a vacancy in the post of Director-General, the General Council shall designate one of the existing Deputy Directors-General to serve as Acting Director-General until the appointment of a new Director-General. The Chair of the General Council shall initiate, as soon as possible, a process for appointment of a new Director-General, in keeping with the procedures set out herein, and may establish expedited deadlines as necessary in consultation with Members.

So the General Council is expected to select one of the Deputy Directors-General to fill the role in the interim. In 2020, the General Council was unable to decide on which DDG should take up the role, and so it was decided that all four DDGs should continue on in their roles until consensus on a new Director-General was reached.

The decision to extend the terms of the four Deputy Directors-General came after consultative efforts had been made to designate one of them as Acting Director-General until a new Director-General takes office. Amb. Walker explained once again to members that choosing an Acting Director-General was “very much a housekeeping matter to facilitate the continued running of the organization” as the membership focused on choosing the new Director-General.

But consultations did not yield a consensus on which of the four should be designated as Acting Director-General, so Amb. Walker proposed instead that all four DDGs stay on and continue their existing responsibilities until such time as the new Director-General takes office. During this period, all four DDGs will consult closely with the members as represented by the General Council chair. Amb. Walker underscored that during this interim phase, no structural changes will be made to the WTO Secretariat. Amb. Walker also stated that he remained open to consult with members.
WTO Press Release - July 31st, 2020

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