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Azevêdo becomes first Latin American head of WTO

The new chief says he will ease the blockages in global trade.

Viva o Brasil!

The World Trade Organization (WTO) announced the selection today of Roberto Carvalho de Azevêdo as the new Director-General of the group. The final selection, which came from an initial field of nine candidates, came down to Azevêdo, Brazil’s ambassador to the WTO, and Herminio Blanco, a Mexican economist and former trade minister. The showdown between the two Latin American candidates played to the traditional rivalry between the region’s two largest economies, and spotlighted the two countries’ very different approaches to global trade.

A career diplomat, Azevêdo has worked with the WTO since its inception in 1995, and served as Brazil’s ambassador to the body since 2008. He has long advocated for his country’s protectionist interests before the body, leading some  - especially from developed countries – to worry that he would undermine the WTO’s mission of trade liberalization. For this reason, the United States and members of the European Union were more keen to nominate Blanco; still, they did not object to Azevêdo.

The new Brazilian WTO Director General was able to overcome their objections with strong support from the developing world, of which he is seen as a champion. Countries in Africa and Middle East – where Brazil has also worked to build relations – were key in securing Azevêdo ‘s nomination. This is important in a body that has often been accused of prejudicing the concerns of developed economies against those of the developing world.

In interviews, Azevêdo has insisted that as Director General he will not be representing Brazil or the developing world. Instead, he says what he offers is a “fresh perspective from inside” to the WTO, which he will use to help ease blockages in global trade negotiations. The organization’s legitimacy has been called into question recently, as the 2011 Doha rounds remain stalled, and countries increasingly organize trade bilaterally rather than through the WTO. Azevêdo has promised to “unclog” the paralysis in negotiations, claiming multilateralism “is in [his] DNA.”

Analysts consulted by Latin Business Chronicle were pleased with his selection. Davis S. Christy, an international trade partner at Thompson Hine LLP and professor at Georgetown University said “The members of the WTO have made an excellent choice. Ambassador Azevêdo is an exceedingly intelligent and thoughtful person.  He is also a hard worker and a person of the highest character.” Christy also praised Azevêdo’s commitment to the WTO and his good relations with the organization’s staff.

Still, he acknowledges he has work cut out for him, not only in closing the Doha Round, but also in resolving issues from within the WTO.  “He must remake an organizational structure and replace cronyism with the even application of high standards of fairness and excellence in appointments, promotions and compensation,” says Christy.   

The first Latin American WTO Director certainly has his work cut out for him, but it’s a momentous occasion to be sure.



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