WTO: Latin Americans race to the finish line

The next head of the World Trade Organization will hail from Latin America, following the elimination of candidates from Indonesia, New Zealand and South Korea this week. 

Roberto Carvalho de Azevêdo (Brazil)
Roberto Carvalho de Azevêdo (Brazil)

Roberto Carvalho de Azevêdo, of Brazil, and Herminio Blanco, of Mexico, will compete for votes in the final round of consultations, which begin Wednesday. 

Having received the least support from across the WTO membership during the second round of consultations, Mari Elka Pangestu (Indonesia), Tim Groser (New Zealand) and Taeho Bark (Republic of Korea) were asked to withdraw. Candidates from Ghana, Kenya, Costa Rica and Jordan has been eliminated from consideration during an earlier round. 

The Chair’s report noted that the results of the second round were “clear and unambiguous” as to the members’ preference, and that even the few members who deviated from the two-preferences rule did not impact the final tally. 

Herminio Blanco (Mexico)
Herminio Blanco (Mexico)

Azevêdo is the favored frontrunner, expected to pick up most of the developing states in African, Latin America and Asia. Blanco is expected to secure the votes of the United States, European members and the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum. Blanco spent the past weekend in Indonesia at the APEC forum. The failure to date of the Doha talks has prompted a number of alternative trading agreements, such as the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement, which will impact the outcome. While most African states will likely tilt toward Azevêdo, the Asian and Latin American votes will split along these alternative arrangement and between the developed and developing economies in each region. 

The next round of consultations — taking place 1 to 7 May – will following the same procedure as the first two rounds. The facilitators will report whether Azevêdo or Blanco received the broadest support among regional groups and WTO categories of membership and be most likely to gain consensus. It is difficult to envision that such broad support will be as “unambiguous” as in earlier rounds, and the recommended candidate may come out on top by only a handful of votes in one or two regions.  

A meeting of the General Council will be called before the end of May to formally select the new Director General. If the facilitators are able to recommend one of the two finalists as likely to secure support across the membership, the remaining candidate is expected — though not required — to withdraw. The General Council will then ratify the recommendation of the facilitation committee.  

Should the candidate with least support choose not to withdraw, a formal vote will need to be taken. There are no explicit rules for conducting a vote. The 2002 reforms note that the decision to elect the new Director General “shall be understood to be an exceptional departure from the customary practice of decision-making by consensus, and shall not establish any precedent…”  Such an action is unlikely however, given that political disaster it would mean for the WTO agenda and the consequent blowback it would have for the losing candidate. 

The two remaining candidates can be followed on Twitter at @AzevedoWTO and MXcandidacyWTO.

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Tony Fleming

Tony is a communications and advocacy professional with over 20 years of experience in multilateral reform advocacy and online communications.

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