wednesday, 8 may of 2013

Brazilian tapped to lead World Trade Organization


Brazilian tapped to lead World Trade Organization

Roberto Carvalho de Azevêdo of Brazil will be the next leader of the World Trade Organization, a Brazilian official said Tuesday, and will take the reins at a time when the group is fighting to remain relevant.

Representatives of the 159 W.T.O. member states, meeting in Geneva, reached consensus on Mr. Azevêdo late Tuesday afternoon, a spokeswoman for the Brazilian foreign ministry said. The organization was scheduled to make an official announcement on Wednesday.

Mr. Azevêdo, a career diplomat and Brazil’s permanent representative to the W.T.O., would be the sixth person and the first Latin American to lead the global trade body since its creation in 1995. He beat out seven other candidates for the position, including the other finalist, the former Mexican trade minister Herminio Blanco Mendoza, who had the backing of the European Union.

Mr. Azevêdo has said that his goal at the organization is “to build bridges among my peers in Geneva.” In the end, his candidacy appealed to a number of developing countries, which saw his final opponent, Mr. Blanco — who holds a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Chicago — as a favorite of the United States and other wealthy nations.

The current chief, Pascal Lamy, took office in 2005 and will step down after his second four-year term expires Sept. 1.

Petros Mavroidis, a professor of trade law at Columbia University in New York, noted that Mr. Azevêdo had an insider’s knowledge of how the W.T.O. worked, something he said might help him work out “a face-saving compromise” over the deadlocked Doha round of trade negotiations. But Mr. Mavroidis also said he was surprised that the group, facing existential doubts, had not chosen someone with more political weight, “someone like Bill Clinton.”

“They haven’t delivered anything for years,” Mr. Mavroidis said. “Mr. Azevêdo is a skillful ambassador, but I think you need someone to shake the place up. And I don’t know if he’s the one to do it.”

Mr. Azevêdo takes over at a time when the W.T.O. — established as a forum for setting global trade rules, reducing barriers to commerce and settling disputes — appears to have lost its way. Early optimism about the Doha round, which began in 2001 and which many had hoped would be the organization’s crowning achievement, has long since faded.

Mr. Lamy, a Frenchman, initially earned high marks for his efforts on the Doha round, but nations’ disagreements on agricultural subsidies, tariffs on manufactured goods and developing countries’ access to global markets, coupled with the onset of the global financial crisis, effectively killed the appetite for a global pact. Instead, major trading nations have been bargaining over deals at the regional and bilateral levels.

One of the most ambitious regional proposals is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, to link the United States, Australia, Canada, Mexico, Japan and others. More recently, the United States and the European Union have also signaled interest in a free trade agreement.

The technical complexity of both proposals, as well as opposition from numerous special interests, probably means that years of negotiations lie ahead before either yields fruit.

Some economists argue that the rapid growth of developing nations like China, Brazil and India has left the W.T.O. hopelessly out of date.

Michael Punke, the U.S. ambassador to the W.T.O., called last month for its members to make an all-out effort to take at least a small step toward regaining momentum for a multilateral deal at a trade ministers’ meeting set for Bali in December.

“Absent a course correction, the current path of talks would lead directly to failure at Bali,” Mr. Punke warned. “And if Bali fails, it is hard to imagine how Doha can succeed.”

(Published by The New York Times – May 7, 2013)

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