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As Roberto Azevêdo Jumps Ship from WTO to Pepsi, What Legacy Does he Leave Behind?

Azevedo has claimed success on issues like a Trade Facilitation Agreement aimed to cut through delays in trade. But on his watch, the WTO also failed to conclude the Doha Development Agenda.

After acting as the custodian for the 164-member inter-governmental trade organisation for the past seven years, one would think it wouldn’t be that easy to go from trying to straighten a sinking ship to working for a profit-making multinational company that produces sugary drinks.

But this is exactly what Roberto Carvalho de Azevêdo, the outgoing director general of the WTO, has done. A day after he will step down as the director general of the World Trade Organization on August 31, Azevêdo will serve as the executive vice-president at PepsiCo with millions of dollars of emoluments.

WTO members had no inkling, not even remotely, that their director general had set his sights on serving the American soft drinks and foods behemoth.

In fact, member countries were perplexed when Azevêdo announced his decision to leave the organisation earlier this year. After all, his second term, which began in September 2017, will only expire in August 2021. It was not clear why Azevêdo chose to leave the WTO at this critical juncture when his services are most needed.

That the WTO is in a systemic crisis due to the trade policies adopted by the Trump administration, somewhat akin to the policies adopted by President Donald Trump during the COVID-19 pandemic, is well known. For the past several months, global trade has been facing the worst headwinds due to the pandemic.

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