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Brazil’s Azevedo wins WTO leadership race

May 7, 2013

GENEVA – Brazil’s Roberto Azevedo on Tuesday won the race to take the helm of the World Trade Organization, confirming the Latin American giant’s new status as a global power.

Azevedo becomes the first official from the BRICS group of emerging economies to take the job, and Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff said his election could bring about a new world economic order.

He beat Mexico’s Herminio Blanco, who congratulated him, but now faces the tough task of trying to revive the WTO’s stalled “Doha Round” of trade liberalization talks, launched in 2001.

No official announcement was due until Wednesday, when the WTO’s 159 members were scheduled to meet, while a General Council session next week will need to give Azevedo formal approval.

But Mexico’s economy ministry said its candidate, former trade negotiator Herminio Blanco, had called the 55-year-old Brazilian to “express his full support in his new post.”

“Mexico congratulates Ambassador Roberto Azevedo for his election,” the ministry said in a statement.

Rousseff said the choice of Azevedo “is not a victory for Brazil, nor for a group of countries, but a victory for the World Trade Organization.”

“When it put forward its candidacy, Brazil made clear that, with his experience and commitment, Azevedo could steer the organization in the direction of a more dynamic and just world economic order.”

Blanco had been seen as the candidate favored by the West to succeed Frenchman Pascal Lamy, and Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota saw the decision as a confirmation that new global heavyweights were emerging.

Azevedo’s victory is “a very important result which reflects a changing international order in which emerging countries shows a capacity for leadership,” he said.

The WTO picks its chief by consensus and the ambassadors of Pakistan, Canada and Sweden had spent weeks gauging countries’ views on who was likely to muster the most support.

Lamy – a former trade chief of the European Union – steps down on Sept. 1 after two four-year terms at the helm.

Speaking before Tuesday’s news emerged, Azevedo told AFP he was convinced he had the mettle to put global commerce’s rule-setting body back on track.

“The multilateral trading system is weakened by a complete paralysis in the negotiations,” he said.

“It’s about making the system respond to the realities of today’s world. … The only way to do this is to promote trade and trade liberalization as an important component of development policies.”

“We’re not going to do that unless we unclog the system,” he insisted, adding that a “modulation of the ambition” was needed to allow progress.

Blanco and Azevedo repeatedly flagged up their broad support across a range of nations and economic levels, from the poorest to the richest, and had pitched a similar vision for breaking the Doha deadlock.

But 55-year-old Azevedo’s insider status as an experienced negotiator and consensus-builder at the WTO appeared to have clinched it.

He has been Brazil’s WTO ambassador since 2008, after working as a chief litigator in high-profile trade disputes, making him well placed to navigate the system to try to clear the Doha logjam.

“There’s no magic bullet, and there’s no perfect candidate that will do everything that everybody wants,” said Canada’s former trade minister and WTO ambassador Sergio Marchi, now a consultant and academic.

“But he’s very cool very calm, very collected, he’s bright. I think he puts reason before emotion, so I think he’s very capable. He understands that system. He knows the players,” Marchi told AFP.

The Doha Round, launched at a summit in Qatar in 2001, aims to open markets and remove trade barriers such as subsidies, excessive taxes and regulations, in order to harness international commerce to develop poorer economies.

But the concessions needed have sparked clashes notably between China, the EU, India and the United States.

As Brazil’s litigator, Azevedo locked horns with the EU and U.S. over their subsidies for aircraft makers and cotton producers, although Brazil has also been accused of protectionism by trade partners.

“I’m not going to be there defending Brazilian interests or anything of the kind, or Brazilian trade policy,” as WTO chief, he told AFP recently.

The WTO had chiefs from Ireland, Italy, New Zealand and Thailand before Lamy and BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) were keen to claim the slot.

“I think members in general are more trusting of a system where they think they can be represented at the top, in terms of geography and level of development,” Azevedo said.

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