Head of World Trade Organization to step down early

The head of the World Trade Organization says he will leave his post a year before his term expires, calling it a “personal decision.”

GENEVA -- The head of the World Trade Organization said Thursday he will leave his post a year before his term expires, an unprecedented mid-term resignation at the WTO that he called a “personal decision.”

“This is a decision that I do not take lightly,” Azevedo told a special meeting of WTO delegations. “It is a personal decision - a family decision – and I am convinced that this decision serves the best interests of this organization.”

The 25-year-old trade body has never had to fill a vacancy for the director-general post before that term expired, and under WTO rules, a selection process for a successor is to begin as soon as possible.

Azevedo’s WTO often found itself in the firing line of the Trump administration, which accused the trade body of a bias against the United States and of letting China get away with what it called unfair trade practices.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer thanked Azevedo for his “exemplary” service.

“Despite the many shortcomings of the WTO, Roberto has led the institution with grace and a steady hand,” Lighthizer said in a statement. “He will be difficult to replace.”