GENEVA (AP) -- Brazilian Ambassador Robert Azevedo said Wednesday that his first priority as the new leader of the World Trade Organization will be to try to rescue its credibility as a forum for trade negotiations.
Azevedo, in his first appearance as the presumed next WTO director general, said the organization's prestige is on the line because it is used more to settle trade disputes and monitor policy than as a host for serious trade negotiations.
"We are at a critical stage. The negotiating pillar of the WTO is completely stuck. There is a clear paralysis in the system," he told a packed room of journalists at Brazil's WTO mission. "We have a trade agenda that we have to broaden and tackle."
Back at the WTO, diplomats and officials offered their congratulations to Azevedo who won consensus support from the organization's 159 members, most of them nations, to serve at the helm of WTO for the next four years. In a statement, the WTO said Azevedo was selected because of the breadth and consistency of his support among members measured in terms of geographical representation and the spectrum of rich-to-developing nations.
He prevailed over Mexican former trade minister Herminio Blanco in the final round, from an initial field of nine candidates that also included contenders from Ghana, Costa Rica, Indonesia, New Zealand, Kenya, Jordan and South Korea. His selection is to be made final later this month, after which he will become the first Latin American to head the Geneva-based trade organization since its creation in 1995.
Though it can serve as a forum for governments to negotiate trade agreements, the WTO is most often the place where they settle trade disputes according to international trade rules. Increasingly, nations have resorted to negotiating outside the WTO along regional and bilateral lines.
But Azevedo, who has been posted at the WTO for the past five years, drew on his insider status and reputation for brokering deals among parties to make the case that he could best reform the institution.
"One skill we certainly admire is an ability for building consensus," said U.S. Ambassador to the WTO Michael Punke. "And we certainly think that will be a very key skill that he will need in this job, and we wish him all the best."
Azevedo is to take over the organization on Sept. 1 from Pascal Lamy of France, who has been the director general for eight years.