An interview with the Geneva-based, football-playing Brazilian permanent representative to the WTO.
“It seems like the less we progress in negotiations, the more we work,” says Ambassador Roberto Azevedo, Brazil’s Permanent Representative to the World Trade Organisation (wto) as he explains the ins-and-outs of the never-ending multilateral trade jamboree that takes place on Lake Geneva.
The life of a diplomat at the wto is about making alliances. “We always team up, we co-sponsor proposals,” says the economic specialist, who explains how his day is a juggle of formal meetings, informal pow-wows and official correspondence with his government back home. “My mission sends more than 2,000 messages a year to Brasília” he says, “and that’s numbered information in writing. If you’re talking about emails, phone calls – multiply that by 10.”
Azevedo is clear about his country’s objectives at the negotiation table: to liberalise trade and strengthen the multilateral system that regulates it. “Brazil is pretty much at the centre of the process. We’re interested in every issue: services, industrial goods, intellectual property, trade remedies.” But Brazil’s main beef at the wto is with agriculture. “Agriculture for Brazil is extremely important,” he says. “It’s why the [Doha] round started and from our perspective we don’t want it left by the wayside. The people who are more defensive on this issue are the developed countries who have subsidies in place.”
Azevedo and his wife; the Brazilian ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Maria Nazareth Farani Azevedo, have lived in Geneva before, during a four-year stint from 1997, and they returned to the Swiss diplomatic hub as ambassadors in 2008. “In the week we hardly see each other so at the weekend we try to really rest,” he says. “We go shopping on Saturday and I play tennis with other ambassadors.” On Sunday mornings Azevedo can be found on the football pitch training with his beloved team, Geneva International. “I’ve been here for more than three years, there has never been one Sunday when we haven’t played,” he says.
The ambassador admits there is a lot to do at the wto. With the Doha round stalled his job is a struggle. “What is missing today I think, is trust,” he says. “Negotiations have been stalled for so long we think everything is about hostage taking. wto negotiators are losing confidence. That frame of mind should change.”
Embassy and residence
The WTO mission occupies an office building close to Geneva airport. Ambassador Azevedo and his wife live in an old house, built in 1820, that belongs to the Canton of Geneva.
“Keeping the system moving while the Doha rounds are at an impasse.”
Brazil has three missions in Geneva. Azevedo’s team of 17 deal with economic issues at the WTO, WIPO, ITU and ILO, while his wife takes care of the UN “political stuff” – health, refugees and humanitarian issues. There is also a small mission on disarmament.
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Dr Stefanie Babst is acting deputy assistant secretary general for Public Diplomacy at Nato. Her role focuses on communicating the organisation’s agenda.
Nato’s brand receive a boost from its successful operations in Libya?
The press realised we could respond swiftly and decisively. But we want to be clear that Nato’s work does not end after a combat operation. In the Balkans, Nato is still there after 10 years. The same applies for Afghanistan.
And what about Libya, is your work done there?
It depends on the Libyan transitional government. Our door is always open: we are available to assist with military reform, with security sector reform.
Is it difficult to promote the soft power of an organisation known for military operations?
It’s extremely difficult. I’ve been working on Nato’s public diplomacy for 10 years and I still come across the perception that Nato is related to the Cold War.
Is Nato’s credibility vulnerable to the defence budget cuts we’re seeing?
When our American colleagues move their strategic focus to the Asia Pacific region – we must be ready for more responsibilities. There will be many sceptical voices if Europeans do not live up to the challenge.