Connect to share and comment

Brazilian Azevedo vows to revive WTO


Roberto Azevedo of Brazil on Tuesday vowed to revive the deadlocked World Trade Organization, as he was confirmed formally as the incoming leader of the 159-nation body which sets the rules for global commerce.

"I have been working in and with this organisation continuously for the last 15 years," Azevedo, still officially Brazil's WTO ambassador, told a session of its ruling General Council which approved him as its next leader.

"I have seen it in much better days. I pledge to all members that I will work with them, with unwavering and steadfast determination, to restore the WTO to the role and pre-eminence it deserves and must have," he said.

He held off from unveiling his plan of action, given that incumbent Pascal Lamy leader is in office until September.

A key role of the WTO's director general is to galvanise talks on liberalising international trade -- and Azevedo will have a tough task, given the current state of play and the fact that the organisation's crunch December summit in Bali is looming.

The WTO's "Doha Round" talks, launched at a summit in Qatar in 2001, aim to craft a global accord on opening markets and removing trade barriers such as subsidies, excessive taxes and regulations, in order to harness international commerce to develop poorer economies.

But differences over the give and take needed have fuelled clashes notably between China, the European Union, India and the United States, meaning Azevedo will need to build bridges quickly.

The 55-year-old takes over on September 1, when Frenchman Lamy wraps up his second four-year term.

Lamy, 66, is a former trade chief of the European Union and has headed the WTO since 2005.

The WTO was spun in 1995 out of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, created after World War II to lower barriers to commerce.

Career diplomat Azevedo has been Brazil's ambassador since 2008, after past stints including as its chief trade litigator -- WTO members settle their disputes via the Geneva-based body.

-- Consensus builder --

In the latter role he successfully challenged the European Union and United States over subsidies for farmers which were found to breach WTO rules.

But he also enjoys a reputation as a consensus-builder who knows the WTO system inside out, and that appeared to have clinched the leadership race.

"Developed, developing, and least developed countries across the World have extended me their confidence. I intend to do everything in my power to honour their confidence and trust," Azevedo said Tuesday.

"Regardless of their size, geographical circumstances, and level of development, all members benefit from a predictable, rules-based multilateral trading system, embodied in this organisation," he added.

WTO chiefs are not elected, but chosen via diplomatic efforts to identify which candidate is most likely to enjoy the broadest support.

After seven other candidates fell earlier in the race -- from Kenya, Ghana, Jordan and Costa Rica in the first round, and Indonesia, South Korea and New Zealand in the second -- Azevedo pipped Mexican trade heavyweight Herminio Blanco in last week's third round.

Emerging economies have been keen to get a chance to lead the WTO, whose first chief was Irish, followed by an Italian, a New Zealander and a Thai, before Lamy got the job.

Azevedo's victory underlined emerging powerhouse Brazil's new diplomatic clout, but he has pledged to be staunchly independent.

Brazil has been accused of protectionist policies by other countries, and Azevedo last week said many nations were at fault and it was time to push back in favour of liberalisation.