A To Do List for Brazil’s Azevedo at the WTO

May 08, 2013

Congratulations to Ambassador Roberto Azevedo from Brazil, who will be the next Director-General of the WTO. Ambassador Azevedo campaigned for the WTO position as an insider who could hit the ground running and that is exactly what he will need to do. He also said that being an insider would help him in rebuilding trust among the members and he will need to get started on that immediately—even before he takes over on September 1.

Just three months after he takes office, Avezedo will have to go to the ministerial in Bali and try to find a way out of the Doha Round trap. My preferred alternative is to salvage whatever is possible and declare victory. If no agreement comes together, however, it will be time to officially bury the Doha Round, and that will take strong leadership.

Whatever happens in Bali, Azevedo will then have to find a path forward for the organization. There are a number of difficult issues that he will confront, including proliferating regional agreements and the need to reconcile trade and climate change measures (among many others). On the former, it is not yet clear whether the “mega-regionals,” transpacific or transatlantic, will succeed in breaking new ground on regulatory and other new issues where the WTO is purported to lag. So the wisest course on this particular issue may be to wait and see what happens.

On climate change and other environmental matters, Azevedo seems to be in favor of watchful waiting. He is on the record, in our wonkcast and here, indicating that the current rules are flexible enough to handle many of the issues that are likely to arise and, perhaps, new rules are not needed. I am more sympathetic to that view than is my colleague Arvind Subramanian, but the recent appellate body ruling against certain parts of Ontario’s green energy policy will no doubt stoke the debate.

Whatever the substantive agenda, Azevedo will also have to tackle institutional issues. On that, I agree with what Azevedo said in the CGD wonkcast about democracy not being the major problem facing the WTO:

The more democracy, the more credible the system is. Is it more difficult to operate in a democracy? Yes, you have to take on different views, but the fact that the negotiations are more diversified doesn’t mean it isn’t possible to have an outcome, and when we do have an outcome it’s much more credible and more longer lasting.

But he also said that the organization needs to find a negotiating dynamic that can accommodate the diversity of  members so that “each one will contribute according to what they can give” (emphasis added). But that’s not how the WTO works and as I argued previously here, there needs to be more differentiation among developing countries in terms of what they are expected to contribute. Brazil and China should not be treated more or less the same as Kenya or Sri Lanka. A Director-General from Brazil might be ideally placed to take on this tough issue—like Nixon going to China.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.