SAO PAULO, Brazil--Roberto Azevedo of Brazil has been elected the first Latin American director-general of the World Trade Organization, the global body charged with moving forward stalled trade agreement talks.
The choice of Azevedo over close rival Herminio Blanco, from Mexico, was seen as a victory for Brazil’s goal of increasing its influence through multilateral institutions, as well as for Brazil’s focus on a more “gradual approach to removing commercial barriers” and a significant role for the state, said Brazilian newspaper Folha de S.Paulo.
At the national level, Mexico is more supportive of the types of free trade agreements favored by the United States and the European Union, who were said to have backed Blanco.
But Azevedo, a trained engineer serving in the Geneva-based WTO since 2008, has said he does not represent the Brazilian model, but rather a bridge between developed and developing countries, and stressed his credentials as an experienced WTO insider.
“We see the state of paralysis of Geneva with great concern.... Ambitious solutions are required to promote trade liberalization, eliminate major trade distortions, and to use trade as a means to bring development for all, but especially to the poorest countries,” Azevedo said in a campaign video posted on his website this year. “Brazil believes that the time has come for Africa, or Latin America and the Caribbean to lead to the WTO.”
Azevedo will succeed Pascal Lamy of France. He will not, however, be the first WTO leader from a developing country. Supachai Pantchpakdi from Thailand served as director from 2002-2005.
Near the turn of the century the powerful WTO was the bugbear of “anti-globalization” protesters such as those seen in Seattle in 1999. But since then, the organization’s role has become less clear since the Doha Development Round talks, started in 2001, effectively stalled in 2008 and a number of countries have instead moved to bilateral trade agreements.
Analysts say Azevedo’s first chance to make a splash and revitalize the body will be at the talks in Bali, scheduled for December this year.