China’s growing importance within WTO highlighted by appointment, trade professor says

- SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - MAY 5, 2021 - Contribuição Ernesto Matera -


  • China’s Zhang Xiangchen was appointed as a deputy director general of the World Trade Organization (WTO) on Tuesday

  • American lawyer Angela Ellard, France’s WTO envoy Jean-Marie Paugam and Costa Rica’s former trade minister Anabel Gonzalez were also selected

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who became director general on March 1, is the first woman and African at the World Trade Organization (WTO) helm. Photo: Reuters

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has again chosen trade experts from China and the United States as deputies for its director general, maintaining a delicate geopolitical balancing act which also keeps two fractious powers close at hand.


Two out of the four chosen are women, a first for the global trade watchdog. Their four predecessors, all men, stepped down on March 31.


Replacing their compatriots are Angela Ellard, an American lawyer and trade expert who has worked at the US Congress, and Zhang Xiangchen, currently vice-trade minister and its former WTO ambassador, the global trade body said in a statement.


France’s WTO envoy Jean-Marie Paugam and Costa Rica’s former trade minister Anabel Gonzalez were also selected, it said.


"This underscores my commitment to strengthening our organisation with talented leaders whilst at the same time achieving gender balance in senior positions" Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala


“It is the first time in the history of our organisation that half of the [deputy director generals] are women,” WTO director general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said in the statement.

Okonjo-Iweala, who became director general on March 1, is the first woman and African at the WTO helm. “This underscores my commitment to strengthening our organisation with talented leaders whilst at the same time achieving gender balance in senior positions,” she said.


Traditionally, WTO deputies come from the US, European Union, Asia and a developing country. An Indian candidate Mohan Kumar had challenged China’s Zhang for the Asia post this time.


Henry Gao, a law professor at Singapore Management University, said that Zhang’s selection shows China’s growing importance within the body which it joined in 2001.


“The post is used for updating the [director general] on what major powers think. You really need to know what China thinks,” he said.


He added that the US and Chinese appointments could provide a channel for the two countries to discuss trade matters.


The WTO did not elaborate on the deputies’ new roles. Responsibility for legal affairs dealing with trade dispute settlement, held previously by Germany’s Karl Brauner, is seen by trade experts as among the most important.


"[Zhang Xiangchen] long and extensive experience on WTO issues, international negotiations, and policy research" Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala


“Ambassador Zhang Xiangchen is currently serving as vice-minister in the Ministry of Commerce of China. He has long and extensive experience on WTO issues, international negotiations, and policy research,” Okonjo-Iweala added in the statement.


“Ambassador Zhang served until recently as China’s permanent representative to the WTO and previously as deputy permanent representative.


“He has had an extensive career of more than 30 years in international trade, serving as director of the Department of International Trade and Economic Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation; as director general of the Department of WTO Affairs of the Ministry of Commerce; and as director general of the Department of Policy Research of the Ministry of Commerce.


“Ambassador Zhang holds a bachelor’s degree in Law, a master’s degree in International Relations and a PhD in International Politics from Peking University.”


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