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Salzburg Global Seminar Mourns the Death of Peter Sutherland

Peter Sutherland, Salzburg Global Fellow, died on Sunday January 7 at the age of 71

Peter Sutherland speaking at the Salzburg Global session, The Future of the Multilateral Trading System and the World Trade Organization

Salzburg Global Fellow Peter Sutherland has passed away at the age of 71 following an illness. Sutherland, known as the “father of globalization,” died on Sunday, January 7 at a Dublin hospital. He held a distinguished career, serving as director general of the World Trade Organization (WTO), a European Union (EU) commissioner, and Ireland’s attorney general. He also served as chairman for BP and Goldman Sachs International.

Sutherland took part in programs at Salzburg Global Seminar on two occasions. He first attended Schloss Leopoldskron as a guest speaker for the June Board of Directors Weekend in 2008. He returned just under four years later to deliver the keynote speech at the session, The Future of the Multilateral Trading System and the World Trade Organization. Sutherland joined government officials, trade negotiators, lawyers, academics, and business sector representatives for the session at a time when the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) had grounded to a halt.

Participants assessed how talks in the Doha Round could be resumed and how stumbling blocks could be overcome. They also looked at how the WTO’s functions which had proven to work well could continue if the Doha Round failed. Sutherland, who attended while chairman of Goldman Sachs International, spoke on “Generating Political Support and Leadership.”

In an interview with Salzburg Global at the time, Sutherland said, “The key stumbling block is the inadequate global leadership that is being provided. The last time in the Uruguay Round – which was itself a ground-breaking round, not least because it created the WTO – there was a basic, broad consensus, which was real in the leadership of the developed economies and the leading developing economies; they wanted the round concluded. I do not see evidence of any such will this time.”

Sutherland said then that new thinking was required on issues like plurilateral agreements within the WTO framework. He added, “We can do a lot of things, I think, to improve the WTO and the way it functions. For an example, we should have annual meetings of ministers; we should raise the political profile also by having every five years a meeting of the heads of government of member states. Leaving the entire discussion at a bureaucratic level in Geneva, which is unnoticed and unremarked in national capitals, is disgraceful.”

Sutherland was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1946. He studied at University College Dublin and the Honorable Society of the King’s Inn before practicing as a lawyer at the Irish Bar. In 1981, he was appointed as Ireland’s youngest attorney general. He was reappointed to the same role again between December 1982 and December 1984. After being nominated as Ireland’s EU commissioner in 1985, Sutherland took on responsibility for the competition portfolio at a time when the EU’s single market was coming to fruition. He was the first commissioner to receive the Gold Medal of the European Parliament.

In 1995, Sutherland became the first director general of the World Trade Organization, having previously served as director general of its predecessor, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) since 1993. While at GATT, Sutherland received plaudits for his handling of the Uruguay round of world trade talks, which led to more than 100 countries reaching an agreement on rules that governed trade in areas concerning agriculture, textiles, services, and intellectual property, and the creation of the WTO.

Sutherland stepped down from the WTO in the same year of its creation and became chairman of Goldman Sachs International, a position he would hold until 2015. He also chaired BP between 1997 and 2009. Toward the end of his life, Sutherland served as the UN’s representative for international migration. Between 2006 and 2017, he helped lead initiatives to encourage cooperation on issues such as protecting migrants affected by crises and ensure migration was taken into account in the follow-up to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Speaking after Sutherland’s death, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker paid tribute to his life and career. In a statement, he said, “In every sense of the word Peter Sutherland was a true European. He believed strongly in the work of the European Union and other international organizations and their importance for cooperation and international dialogue. He … was instrumental in shaping our internal market in the early days and competition policy as we know it today.”

Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar said, "Peter Sutherland was a statesman in every sense of the word; an Irishman, a committed European and a proud internationalist. He played a very important role in Irish public life throughout the 1980s, first as Attorney General and then as EU commissioner. Among his achievements was the creation of the Erasmus exchange program which allows European students to study in other EU countries and which celebrated its 30th anniversary last year.”

Sutherland leaves his wife Maruja and three children.

Salzburg Global Seminar