Wednesday, May 8, 2013

WTO Selects First Latin American Director

Roberto Azevedo, the Brazilian ambassador to the World Trade Organization (WTO), has been selected as its next director general, making him the first Latin American to lead the body. His selection is also victory for the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China), who backed his bid to head the WTO over his closest rival, Mexican Herminio Blanco, who was supported by the United States and European Union.

According to a profile of both candidates in Foreign Policy, the difference in support is at least in part because of their backgrounds. While Blanco is University of Chicago-trained economist who is widely respected in the private sector, he has little experience with the reforms currently being debated in the WTO. Azevedo, on the other hand, is a long-time leader within the trade body and is seen as a greater advocate for developing nations. He has worked with the WTO since its creation in 1995, meaning he is a skilled diplomat and has witnessed the factors which led the Doha talks on trade liberalization come to a standstill firsthand.

Still, the U.S. and E.U. WTO members are wary of his past advocacy for Brazilian interests, as the South American nation has a more protectionist trade record. Azevedo has tried to combat this image, telling Reuters last week: “As director of the WTO, I will not be representing Brazil.” The Beyond BRICS blog contests this, however, noting that it will be difficult for him to escape the influence of Brasilia in office.

As the WTO’s next director, Azevedo’s biggest challenge will be ensuring the relevancy of the organization at a time when mass multilaterally negotiated trade is becoming less attractive in favor of trade deals between nations and regions. As both the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times point out, both the U.S. and E.U. are increasingly negotiating free trade agreements outside the WTO framework, a process which could ultimately undermine the importance of the trade body.

News Briefs
  • The Pact for Mexico, the multi-partisan agreement to follow a reform agenda set by President Enrique Peña Nieto, has been saved after a period of uncertainty following the emergence of a corruption scandal within the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Members of the two main opposition parties had threatened to pull out of the agreement if the PRI did not address the scandal as well as the bigger issue of corruption within its ranks. El Universal reports that opposition lawmakers agreed to continue following the pact on the condition that 11 new provisions on transparency and anti-corruption measures were added.
  • Americas Quarterly has an overview of the conflict in Peru over President Ollanta Humala’s decision to amend his government’s interpretation of a law requiring companies to consult local communities before mining projects can be approved. The administration’s decision to exclude Quechua-speaking communities (who live mostly in the mineral-rich Peruvian highlands) from the law’s provisions is seen as a victory for Mines and Energy Minister Jorge Merino, although the cabinet member told Radio Programas del Perú last week that that the new interpretation is within the aims of the law. The decision has sparked controversy in the country, and led Minister of Culture Ivan Lanegra to resign on Friday.
  • El Nacional reports that lawmakers of the Venezuelan opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) and the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) have begun a dialogue over how to resume its normal agenda and settle their differences without violence erupting in the National Assembly, as it did last month. Opposition representative Hiram Gaviria told the paper that “both sides have agreed to condemn violence, wherever it comes from,” adding that both the opposition and PSUV had agreed to “recognize constitutional rights and the republican institution of Venezuela.”
  • Honduras continues to make slow progress in the struggle to reform its notoriously corrupt police force. Fifty-one members of the police force command were required to take drug tests and polygraph exams on Monday, La Prensa reports, and some 350 members of lower ranks are slated to undergo similar tests in the coming months.
  • According to La Nacion, four of the six elements of the judicial reform package backed by Argentine President Cristina Fernandez are expected to pass today in the Senate, including the changes to the Magistrates Council, which appoints and impeaches federal judges. Jonathan Gilbert of the Christian Science Monitor takes a helpful look at the law’s controversy.
  • RCN Radio reports that the head of Colombia’s victims’ reparation office, which oversees reparation payments to victims of the armed conflict as mandated by the historic 2011 Victims Law, has spoken out about the difficulties presented by the classification of armed groups in the country. Because neo-paramilitary and drug trafficking organizations (known in Colombia as BACRIMS, bandas criminales) are not recognized by the state, many victims of displacement and violence committed by these groups are not eligible for compensation under the law.
  • The Guardian reports on a case before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights filed by Leopoldo Garcia Lucero, a torture victim of the Pinochet government in Chile. While Chile provides him with a monthly pension as reparation, the suit claims that the country’s failure to investigate the crime leaves it liable for “moral damages.” If the Court rules in his favor, it could set an international standard for what exactly constitutes “just reparation.”
  • The Peruvian government has initiated an investigation into the finances of former President Alan Garcia on suspicion that he may have purchased a house using illegally-acquired funds. The investigation will likely damage his chances in 2016, when he is expected to run for president once again.
  • The Toronto Star reports that advocacy group MiningWatch Canada has found evidence that the Canadian embassy in Mexico provided “active and unquestioning support” to a Canadian mining company even after it faced corruption allegations and was linked to the murder of a anti-mining activist in the southern state of Chiapas.

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