The growth of bi-lateral and multi-lateral trade partnerships is making the World Trade Organization concerned about its role in world trade. The new WTO Director-General, Robert Azevêdo of Brazil, plans to change that.
As Azevêdo ascended to the WTO top slot September 1, he faced a situation in which nations bypass the WTO to form agreements of their own. Nearly 192 trade agreements are being discussed outside the WTO, leaving some to questions the relevancy of the organization.
After the failed Doha talks, the WTO has focused on opening existing trade agreements to new participants and providing a legal framework that is valid throughout the world. Azevêdo, however, retains hopes for progress for Doha. In his welcome message Sunday, he said, “This year things have changed. WTO members have identified some important areas of the Doha Round where agreement is within reach. This is only a small part of the overall Doha package, but agreement on these issues will provide an opportunity to help unblock other areas of the negotiations. It will also provide negotiators the much-needed confidence that we can still achieve multilaterally negotiated results if the political will is there.”
The 9th Ministerial Conference, scheduled for Bali in early December, also is a key priority. “A successful meeting there will provide a much-needed shot in the arm for the global economy and the WTO,” Azevêdo said. The Bali conference will discuss strategies to streamline customs procedures globally for agriculture and “areas of importance to developing countries.” He seems optimistic. “I believe that a deal can be struck despite the short time we have between now and Bali. I shall do everything I can to see that agreement is reached. But there is no such thing as a sure thing, and a great deal of work and commitment are required in the coming weeks if we are to succeed,” he concluded.
Azevedo’s first order of business is to attend the G20 summit Thursday and Friday in St. Petersburg. The top priorities of this meeting, according to G20 President Vladimir Putin, are to “assist low-income countries and ensue food security, financial inclusion, development of infrastructure and human capital, as well as mobilizing domestic resources.” That includes promoting capital markets’ development, establishing more efficient financial regulation and infrastructure, strengthening multilateral trade, enhancing energy and commodity markets’ sustainability and fighting corruption globally.