World Trade

Brazilian will be the first Latin American to head the WTO

Brazilian Roberto Azevêdo will become the first Latin American to head the World Trade Organization when he takes the helm Sept. 1 for a four-year term.

At his first media appearance Wednesday as WTO director general-designate, Azevêdo said he wanted to resurrect the organization as a forum for international trade negotiations, rather than just as a body that settles trade disputes and keeps watch of policy.

“The negotiating pillar of the WTO is completely stuck. There is a clear paralysis in the system,” he said. “We have a trade agenda that we have to broaden and tackle.”

After three rounds of voting and an intense campaign by the Brazilian government, the career diplomat was chosen as the successor to France’s Pascal Lamy, whose term ends Aug. 31. The WTO formally announced Azevêdo’s selection Wednesday, although the news was leaked the day before. Azevêdo is expected to be confirmed Tuesday at a special meeting of the WTO General Council.

He has served as Brazil’s ambassador to the WTO since 2008.

“By nominating Ambassador Azevêdo as a candidate for this high office, Brazil was confident that his experience and commitment could lead the organization towards a more dynamic and fair world economic order,” said Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff in a statement. “Still under the effects of the global crisis that began in 2008, it will be up to the WTO in the coming years to give a new, balanced and vigorous impetus to world trade, which is fundamental for the global economy to enter a new period of growth and social justice.’’

Antonio Patriota, Brazil’s foreign minister, said Azevêdo’s selection shows that a transformation in the global economic order is underway in which “emerging markets show leadership.”

Azevêdo, 55, was selected over another Latin American finalist, former Mexican Trade Minister Herminio Blanco, who was reportedly the choice of both the United States and EU.

“His selection is pretty significant both for Latin America and also for the emerging nations as well as the least developed nations on the globe,’’ said Felipe Berer, a trade attorney with Akerman Senterfitt in Miami. “It symbolizes the new economic order.”

In the past, Berer said, many of the demands of the lesser developed countries were “simply left off the table. Now the developing world expects he will represent their interests.’’

Brazil has been criticized as a closed economy in recent years, but Azevêdo has said in interviews that as head of the WTO, he will not be defending Brazilian interests or Brazilian trade policy.

Among his challenges, however, will be convincing WTO representatives from developed countries that he’s not a Brazilian director general but one capable of moving the deadlock in global trade negotiations forward at the same time he balances the increasing expectations of the developing countries.

A WTO insider, Azevêdo understands the intricacies of the organization and the history of its negotiations. “He knows the WTO rules by heart and he’s someone who can really hit the ground running on Day 1,’’ said Berer, who knows Azevêdo both personally and professionally .

Azevêdo has spent more than 20 years working on economic issues. Among his prior posts are vice minister for economic and technological affairs at the Brazilian Ministry of External Relations and head of the Ministry’s Department of Economic Affairs.

“He’s a typical Brazilian diplomat — old-school. He’s reached the top simply by being the best at what he does,’’ said Berer. “He’s very respectful, very patient and a very good listener as well.’

All those qualities are expected to serve him well as he tackles the thorny issues facing the WTO in a world where countries increasingly are opting for bilateral and regional trade pacts and some have questioned the viability of a multilateral trading system.

Azevêdo served as head of the Brazilian delegation during the Doha Development Round of trade talks, which began in 2001 and stalled in 2008. Aimed at lowering trade barriers worldwide, the negotiations have bogged down over issues such as agriculture subsidies, non-tariff barriers and industrial tariffs with a significant divide between developed nations and the developing world.

EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht said that Azevêdo’s appointment comes at a time when the WTO is at a crossroads. “We are convinced that… Azevêdo will help all the WTO members put the multilateral agenda back on track with the ultimate aim of a successful conclusion of the Doha Development Agenda,’’ he said.

In December, just months after Azevêdo takes the reins at the WTO, the world trade body will hold a ministerial meeting in Bali.

Negotiations leading up to the meeting have been difficult. “Any kind of progress in Bali would be noteworthy,’’ said Berer. One area where he said there is some hope for consensus is in trade facilitation, or measures that help ease the flow of global trade.

“A successful outcome in Bali will send an important signal to the world of the WTO’s crucial role as well as the importance of the multilateral trading system it represents,’’ De Gucht said.

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