On September 1, 2013, the World Trade Organization (WTO) welcomed a new Director-General, Roberto Azevêdo, of Brazil.
The WTO Director General is chosen by the General Council, comprised of all current WTO members, which at the time of Mr. Azevêdo’s selection stood at 159 countries. Like major WTO decisions, the selection of a Director-General is a consensus decision that is arrived at through a process of extensive consultations among the members.
According to the Procedures for the Appointment of Directors-General, the selection process began on December 1, 2012, when all WTO members were invited to nominate a candidate for the position. Nine (9) candidates emerged, who then were given until March 31, 2013, to make themselves known to Members and to engage in discussions on the pertinent issues facing the Organization. During this period, the candidates made brief presentations at a formal General Council meeting, where they each presented their vision for the WTO and answered questions from the Members. After four rounds of consultations, Mr. Azevêdo emerged as the winner on May 31, 2013.
Keeping this process in mind, this transition to Mr. Azevêdo from Mr. Pascal Lamy of France, whose term ended on July 31, 2013, is noteworthy for several reasons.
(1) This is the second time that the WTO will be led by an official from a developing country. Seven of the nine original candidates (three of them women) were from developing countries, making it a very high probability that a developing country candidate would have emerged as the winner.
(2) More importantly, this is the first time that a developing country candidate has emerged with a clear consensus to serve a full term as WTO Director-General. The first WTO Director-General from a developing country was the result of a compromise that led to Mr. Supachai Panitchpakdi of Thailand sharing a term with Mike Moore of New Zealand. In 1999, the consensus decision-making process failed. Both men split a six-year term; each served three (3) years while the usual term for the Director-General is one full four (4)-year term.
(3) The apparent consensus behind Mr. Azevêdo allows us to hope that he will have some authority to bridge the divide that exists between developed and developing countries over the Doha Round trade negotiations.
Mr. Azevêdo has been the Permanent Representative of Brazil to the WTO since 2008. He has served as Brazil’s chief-negotiator for the Doha Round and as its chief-litigator in many important disputes at the WTO. It is reported that he is well-liked and viewed as a well-prepared and credible negotiator.
Mr. Azevêdo will now need to channel this experience into representing not the interests of Brazil, but of the entire organization which leads the world trading system. The primary challenge facing the new Director-General will be to attempt to end the impasse that has stalled the Doha trade negotiations for the past three or four years. Much of that impasse, in the opinion of this writer, results from the mismatched expectations for the negotiations between developed and developing countries. Perhaps the consensus that led to his selection, as well as his position as a developing country leader, will assist Mr. Azevêdo in this goal.