Last week’s election of Robert Azevêdo, a Brazilian diplomat, to head the World Trade Organisation, has been widely interpreted as an event illustrative of the changing global balance of power. His election represents the first time someone from a BRICS country – and only the second time someone from the Global South – is installed in this powerful position. It took concerted lobbying from developing countries, including a united BRICS group, to thwart Herminio Blanco, the preferred candidate of the US and EU. The Financial Times immediately reported Azevêdo’s election as a “victory for Brazil’s brand of rainbow diplomacy and for the Brics”.
Brazil’s choice is a popular one amongst developing countries. As Shobhan Saxena points out in an illuminating blog for The Times of India:
“In 1997, as Brazil's representative at WTO, Azevêdo had challenged the US and EU over trade subsidies—and won. It's because of his credibility as someone who can protect fair trade (not just free trade) that the majority of WTO members voted for Azevêdo”.China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying quickly said that China "welcomes" the choice and the Xinhua news agency called his selection "something worth celebrating". China’s commerce ministry added that it hoped Azevêdo would "prioritise the patching up of differences between developed and developing members”.
Vijay Prashad, writing in The Hindu, called Azevêdo “a defender of the South”, adding: “The world pays a stiff price for the North’s monopoly over political and economic decisions. Global perestroika is needed.”
Azevêdo’s election does not mean the next round of WTO talks, scheduled to take place in Bali, is guaranteed to run smoothly. In fact, current signs suggest that it is improbable that Azevêdo will be able to heal major North-South divides on trade issues. But his election does demonstrate that the BRICS have been able to manoeuvre themselves into the leading position amongst developing countries. It’s now clear that the BRICS can gain broad and decisive support amongst African, Asian and Latin American countries for leadership bids in international organisations.
And we’ve also seen a demonstration of the specific popularity of Brazil, perhaps marking – as Saxena suggests in his blog – a victory for the famous diplomacy of the former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. The news comes as a bonus, too, for the current administration of President Dilma Rousseff, showing that Brazil’s international status has not diminished.
"This is not just a victory for Brazil or a group of countries,” said Rousseff, on Azevêdo’s election, “but for the whole WTO."