Frenchman Lamy passes WTO torch to Brazilian Azevedo
After eight years at the helm of the World Trade Organization, Pascal Lamy will hand over this weekend to Roberto Azevedo of Brazil, who has vowed to reinvigorate the institution.
Lamy, a former European Union trade commissioner, has since 2005 overseen a big expansion of the world trade body to count 159 member countries — 11 more than eight years ago.
Russia is a notable addition since it joined last year.
And it was under the 66-year-old outgoing director general’s leadership that the organisation was granted the right to take part in G20 summits.
However, little progress has been made towards reviving the so-called “Doha Round” of talks.
These were launched in 2001 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, and left the talks stalled for years, leading many countries to shift focus to bilateral and regional deals.
That is a problem Brazilian career diplomat Azevedo has vowed to do something about once he takes the WTO reins on Sunday.
Shortly after his nomination in May, the 55-year-old who has been serving as Brazil’s ambassador to the global trade organisation since 2008, promised “to restore the WTO to the role and pre-eminence it deserves and must have.”
His first major challenge will come with the WTO’s next ministerial meeting, set for December in Bali, which is widely seen as decisive for the WTO’s future.
Outgoing WTO chief Lamy has warned that “failure at Bali would have a long lasting damaging effect on the WTO.”
While acknowledging that it would be a steep uphill climb, Azevedo has meanwhile insisted progress is possible at Bali if member states arrive at the table “in a solution-finding mode”, showing willingness to compromise.
“By solving the round, we would be taking the organisation away from paralysis,” he said in May.
Azevedo is set to present his official programme in Geneva to the General Council, WTO’s executive branch made up of ambassadors of all the member states, on September 9.