That man from Rio

Geo-politics defined new WTO chief's candidacy, geo-economics will shape his tenure

During his relentless travel around the world over the past few weeks, seeking support for his candidature, the newly named director general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Brazil's Roberto Carvalho de Azevedo would have realised that the world is far more complicated than most imagine it to be. While the new geo-politics of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) and the old binaries of North-South and East-West defined his candidature, since Latin America claimed it was its turn at Geneva, his agenda and his success will depend on his ability to manage and traverse the increasingly complex overlapping and intersecting economic interests and regional partnerships that define the global economy today.

The media's lazy caricaturing of Azevedo as a voice of the "South" and of "protectionism', compared to his more free trade-oriented OECD rival, Mexico's Herminio Blanco, captures only one dimension of this complex reality. Moreover, the "North vs South" caricature of the Azevedo-Blanco race is unfair to Mexico, which has been a spokesperson of the global South on many issues. Mexico being a member of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the US backing the Mexican candidate did not make the Brazil vs Mexico race a North-South one. The point has been made that Azevedo collected votes from every continent.

While the US would have been expected to back a Mexican, the European Union was, in fact, sharply divided and an internal vote went narrowly in Mexico's favour. Clearly, a beleaguered EU chose to impose group discipline, opting for the Spanish-speaking Mexican over a Portuguese-speaking Brazilian. Even African nations were divided and some did vote for the Mexican.

While the BRICS have been happy to claim Azevedo as one of their own, the fact remains that the Durban Declaration adopted at the last BRICS summit, barely a month ago, stopped short of naming the Brazilian as the jointly supported candidate of the BRICS. The declaration merely stated that the next WTO director-general should be a "representative of a developing country". Mexico too views itself a developing country, though it is a member of the OECD.

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