From Brazil, a new leader for WTO

Roberto Carvalho de Azevêdo will be the new director-general of the World Trade Organization. Photo by: Studio Casagrande / WTO / CC BY-SA

Roberto Carvalho de Azevêdo, who has come out on top in the race to succeed Pascal Lamy as director-general of the World Trade Organization, has vowed to fight for the interests of the poorest countries and preserve the quality of staff.

The Brazilian’s appointment is expected to come next week. In a statement on Wednesday announcing Azevêdo’s victory over Mexico’s Herminio Blanco in the final round of consultations with WTO members, the chairman of the WTO General Council, currently Shahid Bashir of Pakistan, said he would convene a special meeting of the council on May 14 with the sole purpose of appointing Azevedo as the next WTO chief.

Azevêdo, the first Latin American to hold the post, will begin his four-year tenure on Sept. 1.

The Brazilian government was elated. “I appreciate the support that our candidate received from governments around the world in three rounds of voting,” Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said in a statement, while the Brazilian ministry of foreign affairs noted the appointment ”reflects a changing international order” and proves that WTO members wants a multilateral trading system “that is balanced, fair and meets the interests of all members.”

Canada, the United States and the European Union, among others, also congratulated Azevedo and said they look forward to working with him on global trade issues and creating a stronger World Trade Organization.

The first big challenge

The upcoming WTO ministerial conference in Bali, Indonesia, presents the first big test for Azevêdo.

The meeting, which takes place just three months after Azevêdo assumes office, will gather all members of WTO to decide on issues relating to multilateral trade agreements, such as trade facilitation, agriculture and other development issues.

“A successful outcome in Bali will send an important signal to the world of the WTO’s crucial role as well as the importance of the multilateral trading system it represents,” said EU Commissioner for Trade Karel De Gucht.

Azevêdo agrees. Back in January, when he spoke before the WTO General Council to make a case for himself, the career diplomat said that beyond the material gains, a successful negotiated outcome from Bali “would boost our confidence that we can still talk to each other and that we can do it in a constructive and productive way.”

Kimberly Ann Elliott, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development focusing on trade policy and globalization, expects Azevêdo to confront several difficult issues such as reconciling trade and climate change measures.

“On climate change and other environmental matters, Azevedo seems to be in favor of watchful waiting,” Elliott noted. “He is on the record […] indicating that the current rules are flexible enough to handle many of the issues that are likely to arise and, perhaps, new rules are not needed.”

Helping the world’s poorest

The Brazilian ambassador to WTO campaigned on his ability to “hit the ground running; and running fast and with the ability to engage all of you in this enterprise” but also on his commitment to put issues of interest to the world’s poorest countries atop the WTO agenda.

“The [WTO] preamble stresses that we need to ensure that developing countries, especially the smallest, must secure a share of international trade commensurate with their needs. You know I do believe in this,” Azevêdo said in his statement.

He said there are two ways to assist developing countries to be improve on trade: first, to provide them with trade opportunities through access to foreign markets and a regulatory framework that responds to their needs, and second, to coordinate efforts in providing them with technical assistance and building their capacity so they can fully benefit from global trade.

On technical assistance, he recommended enhancing aid for trade, and called for an increase in the number of initiatives under the Enhanced Integrated Framework.

EIF is a multidonor program that aims to help least developed countries engage better in the global trading system, with the broader goal of promoting economic growth and sustainable development as well as eradicating poverty. Supported by a multidonor trust fund, it currently helps 47 countries, and as of March 25, has received nearly $180 million of the $250 million target.

In addition, Azevêdo suggested tapping trade policy reviews to improve targeting of aid for trade. He said least developed countries could use these periodic reviews on a voluntary basis to channel aid for trade more effectively to priority areas identified by these countries.

Vision as WTO chief manager

As director-general, Azevêdo heads the WTO Secretariat, which offers technical and professional support to the various councils, committees and members of the organization. This body currently employs 629 people, representing 70 nationalities.

Azevêdo has pledged that under his administration, the Secretariat will keep and, “whenever possible,” improve the quality of the staff through a system of promotions through merit and competence. He also seeks balanced geographical representation of its composition.

“I will look into gradual ways of making the composition of the Secretariat reflective of the membership in terms of both nationality and gender, always in keeping with two overarching principles of excellence and cost-effectiveness,” he said.

Another commitment is to promote transparency within WTO.

“For the benefit of all, including the staff personnel, the director-general must insist on full disclosure, so that members have access to any information they require regarding the management and the administration of the organization,” he said.

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    Eliza Villarino

    Eliza Villarino currently manages one of today’s leading publications on humanitarian aid, global health and international development, the weekly GDB. At Devex, she has helped grow a global newsroom, with talented journalists from major development hubs such as Washington, D.C, London and Brussels. She regularly writes about innovations in global development.