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Brazilian Azevedo vows to revive WTO

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Brazil's Roberto Azevedo vowed to revive the deadlocked World Trade Organization, as he was confirmed Tuesday as the incoming leader of the 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 the 159-country organisation's assembly which approved him by consensus 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.

Azevedo takes over from Frenchman Pascal Lamy on September 1, and said he would unveil his plans nearer the time.

In a recent interview with AFP, however, he underlined that global trade talks were in "complete paralysis" and that it was time to "unclog the system," with a "modulation of the ambition" the key to progress.

He has also said it is time for trade liberalisation to push back against protectionism -- critics charge Brazil with the latter, but Azevedo has said many nations are at fault.

Lamy said he was convinced that Azevedo embodied the WTO's "common values", citing "openness of trade for the benefit of all" and the goals of "development, raising people's welfare and reducing poverty."

A key role of the WTO's director general is to galvanise talks on liberalising international trade -- a tough task given that momentum has shifted to regional trade deals as the negotiations on a global deal have stalled and with a crunch summit in Bali looming.

Azevedo said Tuesday that the December 3-6 Bali talks came at a "critical juncture" for the WTO and that there was "no time to lose".

Officials said a renewed effort to clear the logjam is expected at a May 29-30 meeting in Paris of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, a 34-nation grouping of industrialised nations.

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.

Its "Doha Round" talks, launched in Qatar in 2001, aim to craft a global deal 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, and Azevedo will have to calm the waters.

-- Consensus builder --

Former European Union trade chief Lamy, 66, has run the WTO since 2005 and won a second term in 2009.

Career diplomat Azevedo, 55 has been Brazil's ambassador since 2008, after acting as it chief trade litigator -- WTO members take their disputes to the Geneva-based body.

In the latter role he successfully challenged Brussels and Washington over farm subsidies which were found to breach WTO rules.

But he also enjoys a reputation as a consensus-builder who knows the WTO system inside out.

Apart from Thailand in 2002-2005, in the wake of New Zealand, the WTO's leaders have all been European.

As a Brazilian, Azevedo symbolises the new powerhouse's diplomatic clout, and President Dilma Rousseff has said he could steer the WTO towards "more dynamic and just world economic order."

While acknowledging the importance of a emerging nation winning the post, Azevedo has insisted he will be his own man.

"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," he 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 the candidate likely to muster the broadest support.

Azevedo edged Mexican trade heavyweight Herminio Blanco in last week's third round of the process.

Seven 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.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130514/brazilian-azevedo-vows-revive-wto-0