Final Two WTO Director Candidates Highlight Technology And IP

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The selection process for the next director general of the World Trade Organization is down to two candidates, both from Latin America. Intellectual Property Watch asked them to comment on why they would be the best leader for those interested in technology and intellectual property rights.

The WTO announced on 26 April that the field had shrunk from five candidates down to two, based on the views of the 158 WTO members.

The remaining candidates are Herminio Blanco of Mexico and Roberto Carvalho de Azevêdo of Brazil. Blanco is coming from the private sector, and is the former trade minister and trade negotiator for Mexico, including the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Carvalho de Azevêdo is Brazil’s ambassador to the WTO as well as to the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), the UN Conference for Trade and Development (UNCTAD), and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

The next round of consultations with members will run from 1 to 7 May. The outcome is expected to be announced on 8 May.

The candidates expected to withdraw were: Mari Elka Pangestu of Indonesia, Tim Groser of New Zealand, and Taeho Bark of South Korea. They joined the four candidates who withdrew after the first round (IPW, WTO/TRIPS, 12 April 2013).

The backgrounds of all candidates can be found on the WTO website here. An analysis of the positions of candidates was provided by the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD), here.

“The organization of work for this second round of consultations followed closely that of the first round,” WTO General Council Chair Shahid Bashir of Pakistan said on 26 April. “The Facilitators and I conducted the consultations from 16 to 24 April. Each Member, whether Geneva-based or non-resident, was asked the same precise question, i.e. ‘What are your preferences?’. And as reflected in document JOB/GC/40 from 12 April, we strongly urged and stressed our expectation that each Member provide two preferences – not more, not less – in this round. 158 Members came forward to express their preferences.”

“As we have done for the first two rounds, the outcome of the round will be given to the Members who nominated candidates who are on the revised slate for round three immediately after the round,” Bashir said. “The following day, it will be reported to all Members at an open-ended meeting of Heads of Delegation, which we intend to hold on Wednesday 8 May.”

The two facilitators are Amb. Jonathan Fried of Canada (chair of the Dispute Settlement Body), and Amb. Joakim Reiter of Sweden (chair of the Trade Policy Review Body).

Responses from the Candidates

Herminio Blanco of Mexico (Photo Credit: WTO)

Herminio Blanco of Mexico (Photo Credit: WTO)

In response to a question from Intellectual Property Watch, Minister Blanco said: “I am definitely the best candidate for all technology industries, North and South, since as Minister of Trade and Industry of Mexico, a developing country, I set several agreements on intellectual property rights with developed and developing countries that have spurred FDI flows into and from my country for the last 20 years.”

“In this field as in all the others areas of the multilateral trading system, I am able to understand the concerns of developed as well as developing countries,” he added.

Azevêdo had the opportunity to give a more detailed reply. “Technology, intellectual property and related issues are very horizontal, they are present in almost every single thing we do in the WTO in one way or another,” he said. “So to the extent we have a multilateral organisation like the WTO, which is not updating itself through negotiations, and only marginally through jurisprudence, I think those industries, which are very dynamic and very fast-moving, are going to experience a significant disconnect between the world that they operate in and the rules and disciplines that are governed by the multilateral trading system.”

Asked how he might help with that situation, Azevêdo said, “With the capability of being hands-on immediately – I don’t need training. I have a patient on the surgical table, I don’t have to go to medical school. I’m ready. … That is very important because we don’t have right now a whole lot of time. The WTO hasn’t been negotiating for 20 years, and we’re quickly moving into a situation where the focus is shifting away from the multilateral system towards the bilateral and plurilateral approaches. If we want to regain any kind of relevance, we need to deliver results quickly.”

Roberto Carvalho de Azevêdo of Brazil (Photo Credit: WTO)

Roberto Carvalho de Azevêdo of Brazil (Photo Credit: WTO)

Azevêdo gave his broader view on the multilateral trading system, where, he said, “you set the foundations of the rules that will discipline the operations of the business world. But in the multilateral trading system itself it is very difficult to test the edge of the possibilities in terms of discipline-making. The innovative edge, the frontiers of the disciplines, of the rules in trade, are usually tested in the bilateral agreements or plurilateral agreements, which are more manageable to test those new concepts, new disciplines, new approaches. And only subsequently, they are incorporated into and adapted into the foundation, which is the multilateral trading system.”

“That’s the process,” he said. “The foundation grows up, and on top of that foundation you see these agreements which are more limited, but they test the frontiers of the possibilities. The problem we have now is the foundation is stuck. It’s not going anywhere. It’s not going up. But these agreements still going to test the frontiers, which are every day farther and farther away from the foundation. So at some point in time, I think we need to get those two frontiers closer, the foundation and the others. Otherwise, businesses are going to find it very costly to operate with a multiplicity of standards, a multiplicity of benchmarks that they have to comply with if they want to operate in very specific markets or regions.”

Asked about Brazil’s track record as fairly open with regards to IP rights and access to knowledge, Azevêdo said he would have to “help members figure out where the intellectual property issues may or may not go and evolve. I think in most countries, the intellectual property issues, not only in developing countries but in developed countries as well, is almost always a result of tensions between the intellectual property or patent holder and society at large, because it’s an exclusivity right … so that innovation continues to happen in a way that benefits society at large. That tension is not always linear, it does not happen progressively always in the same direction or at the same pace. In most countries, these tensions evolve according to political changes, economic changes, social changes, and it’s normal that in countries in general, the progression of the IP system happens in a non-linear way. I think it would not be surprising if the multilateral trading system responded in a similar fashion.”

Developed countries should support him as well because, he said, “I will have to be as impartial as possible, and I will try to help countries converge from all sides of the table, it doesn’t matter the level of development. But what I think I bring to developing countries is a knowledge of their situation and views and their problems and their perspectives. So they don’t need to waste a whole lot of time explaining to me what their situation is. It helps in that sense, but I am not going to be there acting on behalf or pushing anybody.”

 

William New may be reached at wnew@ip-watch.ch.

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