Wednesday, June 23 2021 | ASIA TODAY INTERNATIONAL - Reporting the Business that Matters in Asia
CAN AN INSIDER BRING NEW LIFE TO THE WTO?
CAN a Brazilian ‘honest broker’ break the gridlock to bring new relevance to the World Trade Organisation? The global trade umpire seems currently adrift in a sea of regional and bilateral trade agreements . . .
ROBERTO AZEVEDO, the Brazilian Ambassador to the World Trade Organisation who is to replace outgoing WTO Director-General, Pascal Lamy, has pledged to be an "honest broker" to WTO members in 159 countries.
As the first Director-General from Latin America, and importantly from Brazil — which has been a key player in the stalled Doha Development Round of multilateral trade talks — it is now hoped that Azevedo will be able to broker a deal which has eluded Lamy, despite Lamy’s considerable diplomatic skills.
While campaigning for the coveted international position, Azevedo argued: "Without a doubt, the resumption of Doha will be one of the biggest challenges for the WTO. Without this pillar working, the organisation freezes and loses its functionality."
Like Lamy, the former European Union Trade Commissioner, who steps down from the WTO on August 31, Azevedo's career is steeped in trade negotiation.
Since 2008, he has been Brazil's chief negotiator in Geneva and is considered "an insider" — a position which apparently helped him clinch the prestigious position ahead of Mexico's Herminio Blanco. Azevedo spent almost a decade as Brazil’s senior diplomat in Geneva before taking up the trade negotiating role there.
The Doha Round began in 2001, its goal to further liberalise global trade. But it has been bogged down by differences over concessions, principally between the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China), the US and the European Union.
US trade officials believe that, after years of what has been described as gridlock, a new "vibrancy in conversation" has been evident in recent months in Geneva.
They say like-minded partners are looking for innovative ways to invigorate trade liberalisation discussions. There is now a shift from what is known as a "single undertaking" that wins consensus from all 159 members, to smaller agreements among groups of countries.
"It is time to look for new avenues and new approaches to trade liberalisation through the WTO," one source told ATI.
Azevedo, who is reportedly not the US’s choice, was selected from a field of candidates including Indonesia’s former Trade Minister, Mari Pangestu, and Korea’s Trade Minister, Taeho Park. Neither was shortlisted in the final round, concluded on this month.
Azevedo faces a huge challenge in reinvigorating the global trade body, which has struggled to remain relevant in a global trading system that is increasingly dominated by regional and bilateral trade agreements.
His most immediate task is to set the scene for the next WTO Ministerial meeting, to be held in Bali in December.
* Florence Chong is Editor of ATI Magazine