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
- 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:
- 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