Roberto Azevedo has been named the new head of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). He beat the candidate Washington preferred for the job.
The result of the WTO selection process was meant to be secret until a formal announcement on Wednesday, but the Brazilian government confirmed on Tuesday that Azevedo, 55, won by a wide margin.
"For Brazil it is clear that, given his commitment and experience, he would be able to lead the organization toward a path of a fairer and more dynamic global economic order," Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said in a statement. "This is not a victory for Brazil, nor for a group of countries, but for the World Trade Organisation."
Azevedo, a career diplomat who had been Brazil's ambassador to the WTO since 2008, will take over from France's Pascal Lamy, who steps down on August 31. The Brazilian will become the first Latin American to take charge of the 640-strong Geneva secretariat responsible for facilitating global trade agreements.
Azevedo beat eight other candidates including Mexico's Herminio Blanco, widely seen as the favored choice of the United States. There were three rounds of competition over a period of six months.
Brazil is the world's seventh largest economy. It has been harshly criticised by other WTO members for raising duties on hundreds of imported goods and for favoring local producers in government purchases.
Commenting on the appointment, Jake Colvin of the US business group National Foreign Trade Council said: "The next head of the WTO faces two critical tasks in steering the membership toward a successful outcome to the ministerial conference this December in Indonesia and building consensus toward a broader agenda to modernize trade rules for the digital age."
The next biennial ministerial WTO conference is scheduled for December 3 in Bali, Indonesia. The WTO has been trying to set an agenda for the conference to cut bureaucracy by standardising customs procedures and introducing new rules to promote food security and concessions for poorer countries.
The WTO was set up in January 1995, tasked with helping global commerce to flow as freely and fairly as possible. It also oversees trade rules agreed by its 159 members - about three quarters of whom are developing countries. It replaced the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) which had been set up alongside the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in 1948.
Contentious issues have included aid for the aircraft and shipbuilding industries, trade in bananas, corporate tax breaks, Internet gambling, textiles, sugar and steel. The WTO accords aim to prevent countries from discriminating between trade partners; a lower customs duty rate allowed for one partner has to apply to all other WTO members, for example.
In November 2001, members meeting in the Qatari capital Doha launched a new, three year "round" of talks to liberalise trade in new areas - the Doha Development Agenda - to open markets and remove trade barriers. As talks stalled, the target date was first shifted to the end of 2006, but there has been little progress since.
jm/msh (Reuters, AP)