In late December 2012, the Brazilian government announced the candidacy of Ambassador Roberto Azevedo for Director-General of the WTO. Azevedo, Brazil’s current representative to the WTO, has emerged as a strong candidate among the nine currently present (seven of which are from developing countries). It is expected that the new DG will be from Africa or Latin America, the two regions that have, as of yet, not held the position.
Argentina was the first country to officially support Brazil’s candidacy, buoying Brazil against those candidates in the region with a more neoliberal bend: Costa Rica (considered quite strong) and Mexico (with a relatively weaker candidate). The lack of consensus in the region on Mr. Azevedo candidacy coupled with the with the fact that, unlike past DGs, Mr. Azevedo has never held ministerial office poses particular challenges; however, the latter concern is often countered by pointing to Mr. Azevedo extensive technical experience with negotiations in Geneva.
It is expected that some of the BRICS countries will follow the same path to support the Brazilian candidate, which can be crucial to the contest, which promises to be fierce. The final decision is expected to come out on June 1, 2013, three months prior to Pascal Lamy’s term.
“If the cost to unlock the negotiations is to hand over the General Direction to Brazil, I believe that developed countries may end up supporting the Brazilian candidacy. Since 2003/2004, Brazil has been at the center of debates in the WTO, but the price may be too high for Brazil. Still, the game is just beginning,” said Adhemar Mineiro from DIEESE / REBRIP.
Brazil has been at the forefront of discussions on the often controversial topic of exchange rates and trade. Despite the clear importance of these issues – particularly during what has been coined as a “currency war” – the resistance to the issue at the WTO has been strong, even among BRICS (as has been illustrated by, for example, China). At a press conference on 10 January 2013, Ambassador Azevedo rushed to ensure that his role as DG would not be to promote the Brazilian agenda, but rather seek to reach a consensus and move the stalled Doha Round of trade negotiations forward.
For Carlos Milani, a researcher at IESP / UERJ, “Brazil does not seek this office simply because of the trade agenda (the agenda of the WTO). Geopolitically dissatisfied, Brazil seeks the position for international status. And let’s not forget the domestic level: it would be an asset to Brazilian Foreign Policy within domestic politics, as elections are approaching.”
REBRIP is closely following the discussions and content over the position, given both the position’s importance in the trading system overall and its impact and influence on liberalization policies. With a view against trade liberalization, the network opposes the conclusion of the Doha Round in the terms currently under negotiation.
According to Adhemar Mineiro, “the competition for the Director-General of the WTO is occurring in a context in which the blackmailing by countries and blocks, such as the US, Canada, Japan and the European Union, is beginning to appear explicitly. The answer to the deadlock to trade negotiations by these countries will most likely come with the strengthening of the strategy to conclude bilateral or multilateral agreements (such as the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP)) with countries that believe in more liberalization. This might entail to subsequently extend the ultraliberal terms of these agreements to the WTO, emptying the importance of the latter as a multilateral trading forum.”