Brazil’s Azevedo named to head world trade body

Roberto Azevedo of Brazil was named as the new head of the Geneva-based World Trade Organization on Wednesday, vowing to battle economic protectionism and break the deadlock in talks aimed at liberalizing global commerce.

Brazil's Azevedo named to head world trade body
Roberto Azevedo. Photo: WTO

Career diplomat Azevedo, who currently represents Brazil at the WTO, was statesmanlike after defeating veteran Mexican trade negotiator Herminio Blanco in the final round of the contest which saw seven contenders stumble last month.
"I want to thank the other eight candidates. Their level of expertise and 
experience meant we would have a high-quality director general whatever the outcome," Azevedo told reporters.
His win is seen as a clear sign of the clout of emerging power Brazil — 
Azevedo underlined that Latin America is "more and more influential in global trade — though he has pledged to be a fiercely independent WTO boss.

The Brazilian is to be  appointed formally as WTO leader-designate at a General Council meeting on May 14th.

On Wednesday, Azevedo urged wrangling nations to think hard.
"What the WTO does has an impact on the lives of every citizen across the 
world, whether they realise it or not," he told reporters.
"At this point in time, it should not be about getting what we want. It 
should be about saving what we have. The only way to do it is to look forward, roll up our sleeves, sit down at the table in a solution-finding mode," he said.
"By solving the round, we would be taking the organisation away from 
paralysis," he added.
Azevedo is due to take over the WTO on 
September 1st from Frenchman Pascal Lamy, a former EU trade chief who steered the organization through two four-year terms.
Over coming months, WTO members are expected to make a string of attempts 
to pave the way for a strong December summit in Bali, though predictions of even limited success are gloomy.

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EXPLAINED: What is at stake in Switzerland’s March 7th referendums?

Swiss voters will weigh in on controversial issues such as the 'burka ban', an electronic identification law, and a free trade agreement with Indonesia.

EXPLAINED: What is at stake in Switzerland’s March 7th referendums?
Face concealment in public will be one of the topics of the March 7th referendum. Photo by AFP

Ban on concealing the face

Backed by right-wing groups, the so-called ‘anti-burqa’ initiative seeks to outlaw both religious and non-religious forms of facial concealment in public spaces.

Exemptions would apply to religious sites, health reasons or in the event of particular weather conditions.

Supporters of the initiative argue that on one hand the ban would reaffirm the fundamental Western values and, on the other, ensure safety and security by preventing “masked delinquents” from perpetrating crimes. 

The government is opposing the initiative, claiming that “for the Federal Council and Parliament, the initiative goes too far.” 

It has created a less drastic counter-proposal that would require everyone to show their faces to the police or other officials for identification purposes.

The counter-proposal would come into force only if the initiative is rejected.

An estimated 30 to 100 women residing wear a burqa or niqab in Switzerland, a country of 8.5 million people. 

But opponents also claim that tourists from wealthy Gulf countries could be discouraged from coming to Switzerland if the initiative is accepted.

So far, two cantons — Ticino and St. Gallen — have a legislation prohibiting burqas in public spaces.

Federal Act on Electronic Identification Services (e-ID Act)

All the users of online services have to provide details of their identity, often involving a user name and password.

But these methods are not regulated by law in Switzerland, and there is no guarantee that they are secure and reliable. 

The Federal Council and Parliament have proposed to introduce a federally recognised electronic identity, the e-ID, allowing, according to the government, secure online transactions.

However, opponents of this measure are arguing that issuing such a card should not be the government’s responsibility. Instead, private companies could issue digital identity cards.

Others claim that creating of digital cards should be a common effort of the government and private sector.

The free trade agreement between Switzerland and Indonesia

This agreement between Switzerland and Indonesia would drastically reduce customs duties for the Swiss export industry, resulting in savings of 25 million francs a year.

In return, Indonesia will be able to sell its industrial products tax-free on the Swiss market. In return, Switzerland  will be granted concessions on certain agricultural products – notably palm oil.

The agreement contains a series of sustainability requirements aimed at protecting the environment and human rights in Indonesia.

Opponents — including anti-globalisation groups, leftist political parties, as well as several associations of small farmers and environmental advocates — claim that excessive trade causes pollution, and leads to the violations against the indigenous population in Indonesia.

Concerns have also been voiced about the destruction of the rainforest in Southeast Asia.

However, the government says the free trade agreement includes safeguards to ensure compliance with environmental and social standards.

READ MORE: Today in Switzerland: A round-up of the latest news on Wednesday