Roberto Carvalho de Azevêdo, the Brazilian ambassador to the World Trade Organization (WTO), has been selected as the organization’s next director-general, according to a WTO report. Azevêdo, who was elected for a four-year term, will succeed Pascal Lamy in September and become the first Latin American to head the organization.

The race for director-general began with nine candidates, but was narrowed last week to Azevêdo and Herminio Blanco, who was Mexico’s trade minister from 1994-2000 and key negotiator in the Uruguay Round and the North American Free Trade Agreement. Blanco had been in private business in recent years and has never held a WTO position.

An article in the British Telegraph newspaper quoted Azevêdo as saying the WTO needs a leader “who can roll up his sleeves, sit down with members and engage with them on an equal footing” and that “to do that, you need to know the system.” He also told the Associated Foreign Press  news service recently that, if elected, “I’m not going to be there defending Brazilian interests … or Brazilian trade policy,” which some observers have criticized as being protectionist in the wake of the global economic downturn.

In a presentation to reporters in Geneva in January, Azevêdo said his candidacy had been motivated by the fact that the trade organization has not finished a new round of trade talks since the Uruguay Round in 1994 and needs to finish the Doha Round to show its continued relevance. “It has now been almost 20 years since anything has been negotiated in the WTO,” Azevêdo told reporters. “The WTO is outside the radar.” Unless the WTO begins to deliver a new agreement, he said, the public will not pay attention to the organization. “No amount of road shows or marketing will change this reality,” he said.

In his presentation to the General Council the same day, Azevêdo said the WTO’s negotiating function “has been effectively paralyzed since the WTO was created in 1995.” “We are approaching two full decades of stagnation on the negotiating front,” he said. “The system must be updated or it will soon become incapable of dealing with the demands of today’s changed world.”