Brazilian chosen to head WTO

Last updated 12:04 08/05/2013
Roberto Azevedo WTO
Roberto Azevedo, chosen as director-general of the WTO.

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The World Trade Organization has settled on Roberto Azevedo of Brazil, a well-known diplomat and consummate insider in Geneva circles, to serve as its director-general for the next four years, officials said on Tuesday.

He is poised to become the first Latin American to head the Geneva-based trade organisation since its creation in 1995. He won out in a field that originally had nine candidates at the start of this year, including New Zealand Trade Minister Tim Groser.

Azevedo won by positioning himself as someone who could turn around - even heal - the organisation as it struggles for relevancy in global trade negotiations.

The directorship is chosen by consensus in a complex and secretive process, and the runner-up is expected to concede afterward. Diplomats emerged from consultations on Tuesday to rush past journalists out of the building, barely acknowledging that Azevedo had defeated Mexican former trade minister Herminio Blanco in the final round.

Two diplomats confirmed Azevedo's selection to journalists on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to reveal the winner ahead of the formal announcement, but Azevedo also re-tweeted that he has been chosen for the job and comments from various trade circles began trickling in.

A formal announcement on his selection is not expected until Wednesday.

In Washington, Jack Colvin, a vice president of the National Foreign Trade Council, said Azevedo's selection reflects "his extensive experience and deep familiarity with international trade institutions and processes on behalf of Brazil and the focus he has placed on consensus-building in Geneva".

Under WTO rules, a meeting of member-nations must be convened no later than May 31 to formally appoint Azevedo. The selection - not an election - spanned months of consultations among ambassadors from all 159 members, most of them nations but also some territories such as Hong Kong and Macau.

Azevedo is to take over the organisation on September 1 from Pascal Lamy of France, who has been the director-general for eight years.

Azevedo will be taking over an organisation whose role as a multilateral forum for negotiations is, according to insiders and observers, in growing doubt.

In recent years, the WTO has been used more as forum to settle trade disputes and monitor policy than as a host for serious trade negotiations. That tendency reflects the rise of regional and bilateral trade negotiations among the major powers.

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Azevedo, who has insider knowledge of the WTO's workings, calls himself a consensus-builder between developed and developing countries. He says he will set aside his Brazilian hat to take on the global role.

But it has been no secret during the selection process that member nations wanted the next director to come from a developing nation after having a director from one of Europe's major economies.

The original nine candidates also included contenders from Ghana, Costa Rica, Indonesia, New Zealand, Kenya, Jordan and Korea.

Last week, in an interview with The Associated Press, Azevedo said his candidacy was based on his status as an insider, and he compared himself to a surgeon with the skills and knowledge to heal the WTO, after having represented Brazil to the organisation since 2008.

"I think we're getting a very sick patient. The WTO at this point in time is not doing well. It's almost like the next DG (director-general) is coming to the operating table with a very sick patient on it," he said at his elegant private residence, beside a park overlooking Lake Geneva.

"In my view, he has to put on the gloves, the mask and start operating immediately, because the patient is almost terminal," he added.

"The contribution I have to the system is that when I come to the table, I won't have to open a book and, you know, start reading medical practice."

- AP

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