Brazilian Azevedo named new WTO chief

Roberto Azevedo of Brazil has been named to take the helm of the World Trade Organization as it struggles to revive stalled talks on liberalising global commerce and to help develop poorer nations.

"He was leading in every single round," Pakistan's ambassador Shahid Bashir, who chairs the WTO's ruling General Council, told AFP of the Brazilian career diplomat, confirming the nomination first announced by diplomats late Tuesday.

Bashir spoke after he and other officials steering the race to replace Frenchman Pascal Lamy at the helm of the Geneva-based body briefed the WTO's 159 member nations about the nomination, which will not be made official until next week.

Lamy is to step down on September 1.

Brazil said late Tuesday that career diplomat Azevedo, 55, had defeated veteran Mexican trade negotiator Herminio Blanco in the final round of the contest to become the first official from the BRICS group of emerging economies to head the trade organisation.

The experienced WTO negotiator and consensus-builder, whose insider status appears to have clinched the race, has pledged to hit the ground running, and emphasised in a recent interview with AFP that he had the mettle to reboot the WTO.

"The multilateral trading system is weakened by a complete paralysis in the negotiations," Azevedo said, underscoring that it was time to "unclog the system."

Azevedo 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 and try to clear the logjam in its "Doha Round" of development talks.

The negotiations, launched at a summit in Qatar in 2001, aim to reach a deal on opening markets and remove trade barriers such as subsidies, excessive taxes and regulations, to harness international commerce to develop poorer economies.

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

Azevedo will need to build bridges fast if the WTO is to have any chance of success at its December summit in Bali.

On Tuesday, Brazil's President Dilma 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," adding that he "could steer the organisation in the direction of a more dynamic and just world economic order."

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

He has vowed to be an independent WTO chief.

"I'm not going to be there defending Brazilian interests or anything of the kind, or Brazilian trade policy," he told AFP.

On Wednesday, the United States welcomed his victory.

"I think this is a very good day for the WTO," US ambassador to the organisation, Michael Punke, told reporters.

"We are very pleased to be a part of the consensus and support Azevedo. We think that he will make a very good director general," he added.

EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht said: "On behalf of the European Union, I would like to extend my sincere congratulations to Mr Carvalho de Azevêdo.

"The WTO is at crossroads and, while it is for all WTO members to set the course, we are convinced that Mr Carvalho de Azevedo will help all the WTO members put the multilateral agenda back on track."

Mexico reacted generously to Blanco's loss as well.

"On behalf of the government of Mexico, I would like to extend heart-felt congratulations to Ambassador Roberto Azevedo," Mexican ambassador Fernando de Mateo told the WTO assembly, wishing the Brazilian success in the job.

"Having a director general from Latin America is in itself an achievement for our region and a positive step for the organisation," he said.

The WTO picks its leader by consensus, rather than an election.

Bashir spent weeks with counterparts from Canada and Sweden gauging countries' views on which of a record nine candidates was likely to muster the most support.

On Wednesday he told delegates that Azevedo "carried the largest support by members in the final round and has consistently done so in each round."