Brazil's Azevedo wins WTO leadership race: sources

7th May 2013, Comments 0 comments

Brazil's Roberto Azevedo will take the helm of the World Trade Organization, diplomats said Tuesday, confirming the Latin American giant's new status as a global power.

Azevedo, currently Brazil's ambassador to the 159-nation WTO, narrowly pipped the former Mexican trade chief and heavyweight negotiator Herminio Blanco in a final round, sources familiar with the closed-door contest said, after seven other candidates stumbled earlier in the race.

Azevedo and Blanco's aides emerged tight-lipped from a meeting with Pakistan's ambassador Shahid Bashir, who heads the WTO's governing body, the General Council.

No announcement was due until Wednesday, when WTO members were scheduled to meet, while a General Council session next week will need to give Azevedo formal approval.

The WTO does not hold elections, but picks its chief by consensus, and along with his counterparts from Canada and Sweden, Bashir spent weeks gauging countries' views on who was likely to muster the most support.

The current head of the WTO is Frenchman Pascal Lamy -- a former trade chief of the European Union -- who steps down on September 1 after two four-year terms at the helm.

His successor will face the tough task of trying to revive the WTO's stalled "Doha Round" of trade liberalisation talks, launched in 2001.

Speaking before Tuesday's news emerged, Azevedo told AFP he was convinced he had the mettle to put global commerce's rule-setting body back on track.

"The multilateral trading system is weakened by a complete paralysis in the negotiations," he said

"It's about making the system respond to the realities of today's world... The only way to do this is to promote trade and trade liberalisation as an important component of development policies," he added.

"We're not going to do that unless we unclog the system," he insisted, adding that a "modulation of the ambition" was needed to allow progress.

On the eve of Tuesday's meeting, Blanco's campaign team had been upbeat telling AFP that they were "very, very confident".

Blanco, a 62-year-old economist, enjoys the reputation of a trade heavyweight.

He was Mexico's negotiator for the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, served as a minister of commerce and also boasts solid private sector credentials.

He and Azevedo repeatedly flagged up their broad support across a range of nations and economic levels, from the poorest to the richest, and had pitched a similar vision for breaking the Doha deadlock.

But 55-year-old Azevedo's insider status as an experienced negotiator and consensus-builder at the WTO appeared to have clinched the contest.

He has been Brazil's WTO ambassador since 2008, after working as a chief litigator in high-profile trade disputes, making him well placed to navigate the system to try to clear the Doha logjam.

"There's no magic bullet, and there's no perfect candidate that will do everything that everybody wants," said Canada's former trade minister and WTO ambassador Sergio Marchi, now a consultant and academic.

"But he's very cool very calm, very collected, he's bright. I think he puts reason before emotion, so I think he's very capable. He understands that system. He knows the players," Marchi told AFP.

The Doha Round, launched at a summit in Qatar in 2001, aims to open markets and remove trade barriers such as subsidies, excessive taxes and regulations, in order to harness international commerce to develop poorer economies.

But the concessions needed have sparked clashes notably between China, the EU, India and the United States.

As Brazil's litigator, Azevedo locked horns with the EU and US over their subsidies for aircraft makers and cotton producers, although Brazil has also been accused of protectionism by trade partners.

"I'm not going to be there defending Brazilian interests or anything of the kind, or Brazilian trade policy," as WTO chief, he told AFP recently.

An unprecedented nine names entered the race.

Those who stumbled in the first round in mid-April were from Kenya, Ghana, Jordan and Costa Rica, while Indonesia, South Korea and New Zealand exited the race in the second round at the end of the month.

Since it was created in its current form in 1995, the WTO's chiefs have been Irish, Italian, New Zealander and Thai, and with Frenchman Lamy in charge since 2005, emerging economies were keen to claim the slot.

"I think members in general are more trusting of a system where they think they can be represented at the top, in terms of geography and level of development," Azevedo said.

© 2013 AFP

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