Eight candidates are in the running to take the helm of the World Trade Organization, at a time when the institution is going through a deep identity crisis.
The current director general, Ricardo Azevedo from Brazil, said he will leave the WTO on August 31 — one year before his mandate was due to expire. Azevedo cited personal reasons for leaving, but also said it would be good for the organization to have a different leader to face "the new post-Covid realities."
The change is also taking place at a time when many question the future of the WTO as an advocate for international trade.
Irrespective of who takes over as head of the WTO, analysts believe the organization needs to regain credibility at a time when international trade is not a priority for many economies.
"The vital challenge will be to keep the big players onboard while defending the logic of multilateralism," Gianmarco Ottaviano, professor of economics at the London School of Economics, told CNBC.
The WTO has been scared by the United States' decision in December to block the appointment of two new members to the appellate body. The move has meant that the WTO has not been able to rule on new trade disputes between member countries since then.
Earlier this year, U.S. President Donald Trump has called the WTO "broken," saying countries such as China have taken advantage of it.
His comments came at a time when the WTO's largest members engaged in a series of tit-for-tat tariffs, which have taken their toll on the idea of multilateralism — when a group of countries agree on specific trade rules to boost their economies.
The WTO has said the criticisms from Trump have been damaging.
"We absolutely need the WTO. There is no alternative, but the organisation needs to be restored, and its governance repaired," Karel Lannoo, chief executive of think tank CEPS, told CNBC.
The Geneva-based organization was created in 1995 and expanded world trade rules beyond solely goods to include things like services and intellectual property for the first time. However, critics say it has failed to evolve since its creation.
Officials in the European Union and the United States agree that the WTO needs to be reformed and its rules updated, but there is no consensus on how to do it.
"The WTO won't have a future in a world that is generally moving towards protectionism and where most countries feel they need to take actions outside the WTO to protect themselves against China," Fredrik Erixon, an international trade expert at the Brussels-based think tank ECIPE, told CNBC.
Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that there are eight candidates in the running to become Director General of the World Trade Organization.