Brazilian Wins Chief Post at the World Trade Organization

The World Trade Organization has voted in a new director-general, Roberto Azevedo, Brazil’s ambassador to the trade group, pushing aside Mexico’s hopes of winning the seat for Herminio Blanco, a former trade minister. Azevedo replaces Pascal Lamy of France and will take office Sept. 1 for a four-year term.

The vote, held by consensus behind closed doors with the trade group’s 159 members, suggests that Brazil’s growing political power worldwide continues to reap benefits. It is also the first time a Latin American will operate the trade group, which is based in Geneva and was founded in 1995 to manage the flow of trade as well as trade rule enforcement and negotiations, among other functions.

Roberto Azevedo of Brazil
Roberto Azevedo, Brazil's ambassador to the World Trade Organization, was voted in as the group's new director-general, for a four-year term. He replaces Pascal Lamy of France.

Reuters reported that people involved in the vote said that 62-year-old Blanco, the Mexican, was close to winning by narrowly garnering the European Union’s support, although Europe seemed ready to accept either Blanco or Azevedo, who is 55 years old. Ultimately, Blanco lost. The election of Azevedo was not welcomed everywhere.

“It is an unfortunate choice in my judgment,” said Robert Pastor, a professor of international relations at American University in Washington, D.C., and a longtime expert on Latin America. “Herminio Blanco is a very skilled trade negotiator who has been engaged in negotiating as many as 44 trade agreements between Mexico and the rest of the world.” Blanco was involved in such major negotiations as the North American Free Trade Association (Nafta), the largest such agreement ever, and others with the United States, Canada and Europe.

“Mexico is much more of a leader in trade issues than Brazil,” Pastor added. The decision to choose Azevedo, he said, was “related more to something else than trade issues” and reflects the “increasing weight of Brazil.”

Brazil is the second-largest economy in the Americas, after the US, and larger in population, 197 million, than Mexico, with 112 million people. Yet the Mexican economy has grown at twice the speed of the American economy in the last three years and much faster than Brazil in that period. The world’s attention, however, has been fixated on Brazil’s economic surge because it traveled a long upward climb after deep stagnation. It has also slowed down as Mexico has sped up, Pastor said.

The differences between the two countries are also found in their exports: most of Mexico’s are manufactured goods, while Brazil’s are commodities, making Mexico a “better model for the developing world in free trade agreements,” Pastor said.

Brazil is doing well by investing in long-term projects, like infrastructure, and it has a strong agriculture base. It has opened up to foreign competition and new offshore oil discoveries have strong potential, though tapping them will be a technological feat. The country helped to build an ethanol industry from scratch and has a vital aerospace industry as well.

Still, Mexico “offers a better strategy for the developing world, but not everybody will agree that,” Pastor said.

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