So Brazil has triumphed over Mexico in the contest to provide the next Director-General of the WTO. Roberto Azevedo (pictured) beat Herminio Blanco to take over from Pascal Lamy, who will step down on 31 August after serving two terms as DG.

Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff declared that Azevedo's win was 'not a victory for Brazil, nor for a group of countries, but a victory for the World Trade Organization.' But as I noted last week, there are several possible ways to characterise the result:

  • Despite Rousseff's conciliatory words, as a triumph for Brasilia over Mexico City in the continuing tussle for 'leadership' in Latin America, and for international diplomatic clout more generally.
  • As a win for the preferred candidate of the BRICs and developing countries over the preferred choice of the US, the EU and the 'trade establishment'.
  • And (perhaps) as a symbolic victory for Brazil's more restrictive approach to trade policy as opposed to Mexico's relatively more liberal one.

Regardless of the spin one chooses to put on the result, there is no doubt that the challenge now facing Azevedo is immense: to restore the clout of an organisation that has been losing credibility since shortly after the launch of the Doha Round back in 2001.

Doha now spans four failed WTO Ministerials (five if the failure to launch a round in Seattle in 1999 is included) and as each year has gone by, the degree of ambition has faded. The upcoming Ministerial in Bali in December will see WTO members make yet another push to deliver what is now a radically pared-down agreement (basically a deal on trade facilitation). Yet recent months have seen signs that even this might be out of reach. 

Mr Azevedo must be hoping that this isn't the case. Although the outcome is largely out of his hands, another failed WTO Ministerial would signal the WTO's continued slide into irrelevance as a negotiating body and represent a disastrous start for his term at its helm.

Photo by Flickr user Ana de Oliviera.