This month the new ‘Broom from Brazil’ will be sweeping clean at the WTO headquarters in Geneva. After over 8 years under the leadership of France’s Pascal Lamy, Brazil’s former WTO ambassador Roberto Azevêdo has taken over as the Director-General of the world trade body. He is already making his presence felt.
Azevêdo is likely to be a huge boost to developing country interests in the trading system, having championed these while being Brazil’s lead trade negotiator. This is good news for South Africa in that we share a strong political alliance with Brazil through the BRICS configuration of leading developing countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). To boot he has appointed an African, Frederick Agah of Nigeria, as one of his four deputies to manage the 600 staff and just on 160 member countries of the WTO.
Azevêdo has already made a start in establishing his credibility by making a sober and honest assessment of the state of WTO negotiations in saying that he has seen the WTO ‘in much better days’. The trade body has been struggling for 12 years to make headway on the Doha Development Round of trade negotiations. Now the WTO’S 159 member countries hold high hopes that Azevêdo’s well prepared and credible negotiating style and reputation for identifying creative trade solutions for Brazil can be elevated to the benefit of the trading system as a whole. This is no ‘lite’ task as global trade is currently estimated at a staggering US$18 trillion annually.
The new Director-General has a perchance for systemic detail which he probably inherits from his early life as an electrical engineer. He has also developed key legal acumen in serving as a panellist (judge) on several WTO trade disputes. His first substantive test of these skills will this December when global trade ministers meet in Bali Indonesia hoping to revive the Doha negotiations. Azevêdo will no doubt be eager to make an impression and harvest some low hanging fruit and basket some agreement on ‘trade facilitation’ (essentially measures to streamline global customs procedures) and some agriculture issues related to enhanced global food security, obviously important to developed countries like South Africa and its neighbours in Southern Africa.
South African business will have a chance to see Azevêdo in action in Bali as Business Unity South Africa (BUSA) will have two representatives accompanying trade minister Rob Davies to the negotiations in December. One of the BUSA representatives Lambert Botha, a director with HiltonLambert Practitioners of Trade Law commented recently that, ‘It is crucial for businesses to make their mark on global trade by making inputs on WTO negotiating issues via their chambers of commerce and associations into BUSA’. He added, ‘it would be a travesty to miss out on our share of US$18 trillion by being uninformed and unable to support government in the Bali negotiations. We need to be there actively realising the gains from trade to boost the bottom line for our shareholders’.
Businesses needing more info on the talks can contact Botha at:
[This article was reproduced by the Cape Times]