Incoming WTO boss Azevedo pushes back on protectionism

Trading nations must battle protectionism and inject life into stalled negotiations on liberalising global commerce, incoming WTO head Roberto Azevedo said Wednesday.

Azevedo, whose homeland of Brazil has been accused of protectionist policies by other countries, said nations were at fault worldwide.

"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," Azevedo told reporters just hours after being designated at director general of the World Trade Organization.

"The multilateral trading system is a common good of all countries. Regardless of size, regardless of geographical circumstances, regardless of level of development, they need this system, as something that will allow trade to happen on a level playing field," he said.

"Since the crisis emerged in 2008, protectionist trends emerged ... and those trends are still there and still with us. We need to fight them," added the career diplomat, who has served as Brazil's WTO ambassador since 2008.

"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 emphasised.

Azevedo said that a crunch summit of the 159-nation WTO in Bali in December offered "a chance to take a first step towards rescuing the system."

The summit is seen as crucial in breaking the deadlock in the WTO's "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, which means that Azevedo will need to build bridges fast.

He urged sparring 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 insisted.

"At this point in time, it should not be about getting what we want. It should be about saving what we have," he said.

Azevedo is due to take over the WTO on September 1 from Frenchman Pascal Lamy, who has steered global commerce's rule-setting body over two four-year terms.

WTO members are expected to try hard to pave the way to Bali, though predictions of even limited success are gloomy.

"A lot of things can happen between now and September. It's difficult to tell the state of the patient at that point in time. I hope we'll still find a patient with a heartbeat and breathing, and not flatlining," Azevedo said.