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Brazilian Azevedo named new WTO chief

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Roberto Azevedo of Brazil was named as the new head of the World Trade Organization on Wednesday, and vowed to battle economic protectionism and break the deadlock in talks aimed at liberalising global commerce.

Career diplomat Azevedo, who currently represents Brazil at the WTO, was statesmanlike after defeating veteran Mexican trade negotiator Herminio Blanco in the final round of the contest which saw seven contenders stumble last month.

"I want to thank the other eight candidates. Their level of expertise and experience meant we would have a high-quality director general whatever the outcome," Azevedo told reporters.

His win is seen as a clear sign of the clout of emerging power Brazil -- Azevedo underlined that Latin America is "more and more influential in global trade -- though he has pledged to be a fiercely independent WTO boss.

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

Pakistan's ambassador Shahid Bashir, who chairs the WTO's ruling General Council, 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.

"He was leading in every single round," Bashir told AFP after informing delegates that Azevedo was the choice.

The Brazilian is to be appointed formally as WTO leader-designate at a General Council meeting on May 14.

While Blanco was long seen as a heavyweight option, having held ministerial office and negotiated the high-profile North American Free Trade Agreement of 1994, Azevedo's insider status appeared to have clinched the contest.

An in-depth understanding of the workings of the 159-nation, Geneva-based WTO is seen as crucial for its leader, who faces the tough task of breathing life into its stalled "Doha Round" of trade liberalisation 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 differences over the give and take needed to strike a deal have sparked clashes notably between China, the European Union, India and the United States, meaning Azevedo will need to build bridges fast.

On Wednesday, Azevedo urged wrangling nations to think hard.

"What the WTO does has an impact on the lives of every citizen across the world, whether they realise it or not," he told reporters.

"At this point in time, it should not be about getting what we want. It should be about saving what we have. The only way to do it is to look forward, roll up our sleeves, sit down at the table in a solution-finding mode," he said.

"By solving the round, we would be taking the organisation away from paralysis," he added.

Azevedo is due to take over the WTO on September 1 from Frenchman Pascal Lamy, a former EU trade chief who steered the organisation through two four-year terms.

Over coming months, WTO members are expected to make a string of attempts to pave the way for a strong December summit in Bali, though predictions of even limited success are gloomy.

"I hope we'll still find a patient with a heartbeat and breathing, and not flatlining," Azevedo said.

He also warned against economic protectionism -- a charge levelled at Brazil, but which he said was a widely-seen sin.

"Protectionism is widespread, I wouldn't concentrate it in any one, two or three members of the WTO. I think we have to be watchful," he said.

"The multilateral trading system is a common good of all countries... Since the crisis emerged in 2008, protectionist trends emerged, firmly and decidedly and that risk, and those trends, are still there and still with us. We need to fight them," he added.

"We are, in my view, on the verge of losing a very valuable system. A system that we all fought for, and struggled to create and to advance," he warned.

In a statement, Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff said the choice of Azevedo was a victory for the entire WTO, adding that he "could steer the organisation in the direction of a more dynamic and just world economic order."

The United States welcomed Azevedo's victory.

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

Karel De Gucht, the EU's trade chief, said the WTO was at a crossroads and that the Brazilian would help put the system back on track."

Contest loser Mexico reacted generously, with ambassador Fernando de Mateo telling WTO delegates he wished Azevedo success.

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

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130508/brazilian-azevedo-named-new-wto-chief-0