Mr Azevêdo will not be the first WTO head from the developing world: Supachai Panitchpakdi of Thailand held that distinction between 2002 and 2005. But his ascension to the top job in global trade will still be cheered in Brazil as recognising its stature in the global economic hierarchy. It also signals that when the leadership of international economic institutions is picked by consensus, rather than quotas, the EU and the US are no longer in a position to impose their will.“There was a day when the US and Europe would sit in a room and say this is our guy—and nobody else had any meaningful say in the process—that certainly has changed and that’s a good thing,” says Mr Gerwin. “If we really want to bring rules-based trade to the entire globe, everybody has to feel that they’re bought into the process,” he adds.
There may be some truth to this narrative, but there is less here than meets the eye. There was ultimately very little difference between the two leading candidates: In addition to the fact that both hail from growing powers in Latin America, the FT notes that, although the US and the EU backed Blanco, neither one was opposed to Azevedo.But even more importantly, the WTO today is a far cry from the organization that inspired violent protests in the late 1990s. Over the past decade, the WTO has morphed from being the main engine of world trade liberalization to something of a diplomatic backwater. The FT mentions that the organization hasn’t even come close to achieving a major success since 2008, and the past few years have seen important states turn away from global institutions like the WTO in favor of bilateral trade agreements. Given the organization’s poor track record, it’s not clear whether the post has as much cachet as Brazil hopes.[Roberto Azevedo image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]