IT has been 12 months since Brazil's Roberto Azevedo announced his candidacy for the post of director-general at the World Trade Organization.
After delivering on the goal to bring others back to a negotiating table that once lost almost all hope, he remains encouraged in the ability to build on that success and continue to breathe life back into multilateral trade talks at the global level.
In a Jan. 6 speech at a diplomatic seminar in Lisbon, Portugal, Azevedo spoke optimistically about trade multilateralism in the 21st century — something that may not have been possible before the political will that made positive steps forward after the WTO ministerial meeting in Bali, Indonesia, in December.
"Before the gavel finally came down to confirm the adoption of the Bali package, the future of trade multilateralism was in doubt, but the gavel did come down on the deal. We delivered, and it has changed the outlook and the opportunities quite dramatically," he said.
Azevedo recalled that one week from the start of the conference, negotiating texts were still unfinished, and ministers were "a step away from another failure."
He said "political will" was what reversed the situation, and it wasn't about creating winners or losers but, rather, recognizing that a multilateral trading system needs to be reinvigorated to benefit everyone.
Agriculture was the cornerstone of the Doha Development Agenda, which WTO ministers have been working on since 2001 and was one of three main pillars in the Bali agreement.
Azevedo said one of the lessons learned from Bali was that the ministers need to be creative. After recognizing that, in the short run, WTO was in no position to conclude the Doha Round, "a reality check enabled us to look at areas that were promising and doable, and this enabled us to design the general outline of what would emerge as the 'Bali package.'"
Azevedo added that the process needs to be transparent and inclusive at all stages; the days of small groups of countries negotiating behind closed doors will no longer fly.
"The entire membership came together to negotiate in open-ended meetings," he said. "It was not an exclusive club that was deciding everything."
The traditional divide between developed and developing countries, between north and south, was not present in the Bali deal. "We sought a balanced package that everyone could support," he said.
Developing nations fought for the package just as hard as anyone. "The few voices that expressed reservations about the general balance of the agreement and suggested it should be rejected found no echo in the developing world," Azevedo said. "Bali changed the ball game. We have put the 'world' back into the 'World Trade Organization.'"
Azevedo noted that Bali was just the start. It's important for those involved to remain realistic, continue to be creative and explore new ways to make headway on the most difficult negotiating topics.
"Our efforts need to be given a sense of urgency. Rapid changes are taking place in the world, in the business, political and cultural domains," he said. "There is plenty of room for convergence between defending national interests and improving the multilateral trading system."