THE three facilitators in the process of selecting the next World Trade Organization director-general recommended Ambassador Roberto Carvalho de Azevedo of Brazil as the candidate who is most likely to gain consensus support of WTO members.
A special General Council meeting will be held May 14 to approve Azevedo as the next director-general.
In September, he will replace Pascal Lamy, who was the fifth director-general of WTO and has served two terms, the first starting in September 2005.
Azevedo is currently Brazil's ambassador to WTO and has spent much of the past two decades serving at the permanent mission of Brazil in Geneva, Switzerland, since WTO was only two years old. He also has served as vice-minister for economic and technological affairs.
In 2004, he took on U.S. cotton subsidies — the first time a developing nation had disputed agricultural subsidies of a global power and won — which has proved to be a significant thorn in U.S. farm policy and trying to abide by WTO rules.
Azevedo comes to the helm at a time when progress in the WTO Doha Round has stalled significantly as the U.S., China and India remain divided over many issues in the trade talks. However, Brazil had its own disputes over how it would be treated within the WTO agricultural negotiations and highlighted the important differences among developed and developing countries.
Many multilateral trade talks, such as the substantial Trans-Pacific Partnership, have taken off as countries give up hope for a far-reaching agreement within the Doha Round. However, a new director-general has the potential to move the discussions forward or allow the organization to act more as a referee, like it currently does in settling trade disputes among member nations.
In Azevedo's presentation to the council, he said the ability to develop new rules and agreements through multilateral rounds of negotiations concerns him most as it has been effectively paralyzed since WTO was created in 1995.
"We are approaching two full decades of stagnation on the negotiating front," he said. "The system must be updated, or it will soon become incapable of dealing with the demands of today's changed world."
He said the two major reasons the WTO talks are deadlocked is because of a lack of trust and negotiating gaps, which will remain unbridgeable if countries continue to view the issues from the same perspective.
Azevedo admitted that he doesn't have a ready answer on how to unlock the talks, but sometimes, the best way is not to have a preconceived solution.
"Often, a very subtle thread of commonality can be detected if you know the history and the details of the negotiation. Then, it is a matter of being creative and of having the trust of the other negotiators. They must truly believe that you are seeking a viable and balanced solution. At this point, solutions that were not there at the beginning of the talks suddenly become promising avenues and frequently lead us to a satisfactory solution to all," he said.
Azevedo has a reputation as a "credible negotiator" and a "consensus builder," according to reports. However, coming from Brazil, he may bring more of a protectionist view than the majority of the 156 WTO members, which could be problematic for achieving the overarching goal of WTO to advance agreements that reduce tariffs and other barriers to trade.