EU trade commissioner Hogan mulling candidacy for WTO chief

Via Reuters Finance

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European trade commissioner Phil Hogan is considering putting his name forward as a candidate to be the next director-general of the World Trade Organization, his spokesman said on Sunday.

FILE PHOTO: European Trade Commissioner-designate Phil Hogan of Ireland attends his hearing before the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium September 30, 2019. REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo

The WTO post will become vacant at the end of August after incumbent Roberto Azevedo said he would step down a year early.

The next director-general will be faced with intensifying U.S.-China tensions and rising protectionism, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The new chief will also have to push forward talks to limit overfishing and set new rules on e-commerce.

Hogan, an Irishman, has been a European commissioner since 2014, initially responsible for agriculture and since late 2019 for trade.

He told the European Parliament on Thursday that it would be “wonderful” if a European became the next head of the Geneva-based trade body.

Two other potential European candidates are Spanish foreign minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya and Dutch trade minister Sigrid Kaag.

The issue could become a central topic of a meeting of EU ministers responsible for trade provisionally set for June 9. Europe could then put forward a single candidate.

WTO members can nominate their own nationals as candidates from June 8 to July 8.

With three of the previous six directors-general from Europe and the others from Thailand, Brazil and New Zealand, there is some pressure to choose a leader from Africa, with four names from the continent being cited.

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Some in Europe though say that there is an unwritten rule at the WTO that the director-general post should alternate between the developed and developing world. Azevedo is Brazilian.

There is also a general consensus that the body itself needs reform, with critics saying it must take into account the rise of China and state-owned enterprises.

“He’s a strong supporter of a reform agenda for the WTO,” Hogan’s spokesman said.

Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Giles Elgood