What is in this article?:
- Will Azevedo revive the WTO?
- WTO clearly stuck
- Brazil’s Roberto Azevedo, who will assume the position of director-general in September, may be just the person to revive the WTO at a turning point in its history.
With the election of Brazil’s Roberto Azevedo as the next director-general of the World Trade Organization, it’s time to hope for a “Nixon goes to China” moment.
In 1972, President Nixon traveled to Communist China and met with Mao Zedong, marking a new and more productive phase for relations between the United States and China. It was also a diplomatic feat that only a political leader with Nixon’s anti-Communist credentials could have pulled off. Just about anybody else would have suffered dearly in the fallout.
Perhaps in the future, we’ll speak of “Azevedo goes to Geneva.”
That’s because the Brazilian, who will assume the position of director-general in September, may be just the person to revive the WTO at a turning point in its history.
Several commentators were quick to express skepticism about Azevedo. “Brazil has not been the most positive partner at the WTO,” said Ernesto Zedillo, former president of Mexico, in the Wall Street Journal. “Brazil doesn’t have the best credentials to lead the WTO. As a country that tends to be protectionist, it’s not a great champion of a multilateral trading system.”
The European Union favored a different candidate, Herminio Blanco of Mexico. The United States remained officially neutral, though many Americans also seemed to prefer Blanco over Azevedo because he helped negotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Whereas Mexico appears to have embraced global free trade, Brazil recently has moved to protect its own favored industries, even though it already has one of the world’s lowest rates of trade to GDP.
Despite these concerns, Azevedo may have a tremendous upside: Developing countries trust him as a champion of their interests. This could prove important, because they’ve become an obstacle to completing a new multilateral trade agreement that improves the flow of goods and services around the world.
In 2001, the WTO launched the “Doha round” of world trade talks. Yet these negotiations quickly fell into a stalemate. For all practical purposes, Doha is dead–and it’s been dead for a long time.
Its failure springs from many sources and there’s plenty of blame to spread around. Yet developing nations may have presented the most significant hurdle. Many of them approached the talks looking for a handout, believing that wealthier countries should make concessions, almost out of charity. They didn’t seem to understand the importance of opening their own markets to competition–and that any successful agreement involves a give and take from both sides.