Brazil’s WTO permanent representative since 2008, Azevedo is up against Mexican candidate Herminio Blanco, a former senior trade negotiator, in the third and final round of a selection process set to wrap up on Tuesday.
The 55-year-old, who was Brazil’s chief litigator in many key disputes at the 159-member WTO and served on a string of key bodies at its Geneva base, has earned a reputation as an experienced and credible negotiator as well as a consensus-builder.
Azevedo recently told AFP that his track record in trade in both Brasilia and the WTO’s Geneva base was his selling point.
“At the negotiating level, you need a director general who can roll up his sleeves, sit down with members and engage with them on an equal footing, and you need the same person to be doing the political articulation of the support that is needed to make the system move,” he said.
“To do that, you need to know the system. And I think that’s the most distinguishing trait between my candidacy and the candidacy of Mr. Blanco, which is that I come from within,” he added.
Like Blanco, he has underlined his broad support from rich, emerging and poor nations alike.
Azevedo is seeking to replace Frenchman Pascal Lamy — a former European Union trade chief who has served two four-year terms as WTO chief — from September 1.
Since 2003 under the presidency of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Brazil has been playing a key role in the WTO where it emerged as one of the key negotiators along with the European Union, Japan, China, India, the United States and Australia.
Azevedo has said he is keenly aware that being WTO chief would mean rising above national interests.
“If I’m elected, I’m not going to be there defending Brazilian interests or anything of the kind, or Brazilian trade policy,” he told AFP.
But he acknowledged the symbolism of an emerging nation again winning the post. Apart from Thailand in 2002-2005, in the wake of New Zealand, the WTO’s leaders since it was founded in 1995 have all been European.
“I think members in general are more trusting of a system where they think they can be represented at the top, in terms of geography and level of development,” he said.
Today under fire by its critics for policies seen as protectionist, Latin America’s economic behemoth has been a staunch defender of developing countries in negotiations with the United States and Europe.
Along with India, it plays a leadership role within the G20 group of developed and emerging economies.
Azevedo has taken part, in various capacities, in nearly all WTO ministerial conferences since the launch of the Doha Round of trade negotiations in 2001.
He joined Brazil’s foreign service in 1984, and previously represented his country in the World Intellectual Property Organisation, the United Nations Council for Trade and Development and the International Telecommunications Union.
He also served at the Brazilian embassies in Washington (1988-91) and Montevideo (1992-94), and at his country’s UN mission in Geneva (1997-2001).
Married and the father of two daughters, Azevedo is fluent in the WTO’s three official languages: English, French, and Spanish.