The Challenge Ahead for the WTO’s New Director General

As one of the international economic regimes, the brand of the World Trade Organization (WTO) is not as popular as the World Bank (WB) or IMF (International Monetary Fund). The WTO, which “only” handles trade policies between countries, seems less attractive than the flexibility of the WB or IMF to control some governments through fresh funding they lend. But towards the end of 2013, the WTO grabbed the headlines generated by the Bali Package, the result of the WTO’s 9th Ministerial Conference in Nusa Dua, Bali, on 3-7 December 2013. This becomes more interesting because the Bali Package was agreed to by 159 countries, under the leadership of WTO’s newly elected Director General, Roberto Azevedo.

Azevedo, a 57-year-old Brazilian, has represented Brazil at the WTO since 2001. In the final round of the WTO Director General elections in mid-2013, Azevedo received support mainly from the least developed countries; however, he managed to beat his closest rival, Herminio Blanco, the Mexican Minister of Trade who had the full support of the developed countries. Azevedo’s victory gave rise to hope that he will restore world’s trust for the WTO, which for nearly two decades was touted as the helper of the developed countries while disregarding the needs of the global South. As the WTO’s new Director General, Azevedo said to Lawrence McDonalds from the Center for Global Development that he will focus on three missions. The first is the implementation of existing agreements; the second is conflict resolution among member states; and the third, which according to Azevedo is the primary responsibility of the WTO, to follow up the Doha Round that has been pending for 12 years because no consensus has ever been reached among its members. In the case of Indonesia the verdict is still out as to whether the new Director General will be able to find a solution that suits Indonesia.

We could say the Bali Package is the first step for Azevedo’s third mission. Seeing that the WTO often failed to reach consensus at any of its Ministerial Conferences, of course the world considers the Bali Package to be Azevedo’s victory. But he was aware this would be the beginning of his duty as Director General. On the one hand, the Bali Package allows the least developed countries to have more flexibility in arranging food subsidies for their people’s welfare. This was something that actually was opposed by the developed countries based on their concerns about the stability of global food prices. While on the other hand, the Bali Package also intends to eliminate trade protectionism that is profitable for the products of the developed countries though that policy is rather detrimental to the least developed countries.

Indonesia is pushing hard to get its products included on the Green list, which after successful intervention by NGOs, remained banned and cost the Indonesian tax payers a considerable chunk of money each year. It’s not easy to prove that the Bali Package is more than just symbolic policy, especially in the midst of heavy criticism of the NGOs as the representatives of local farmers, fishermen, and small-scale entrepreneurs who feel oppressed by the WTO’s policies.

When he won the Director General election, Azevedo said, “What we have today is a WTO with almost 160 countries of various shapes, sizes, and levels of development. What we have to do is find a dynamic of negotiations that accommodates all of them. We need to figure out how to have everyone interact in a positive and constructive way.” This was a noble vision, even though he didn’t explain more about “the constructive way.” Looking at how the WTO’s policies depend on the consensus of 160 countries with their own interests and agendas, it seems like we should seriously pray for Azevedo’s leadership and wish him luck for his upcoming efforts to implement the Bali Package. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “A policy is a temporary creed liable to be changed, but while it holds good it has got to be pursued with apostolic zeal.”

About Ika 12 Articles
Ika Virginaputri is an independent writer and current-affairs observer for the Dekker Center. She lives in Jakarta and writing for the Dekker Center and national and international media.

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