The World Trade Organisation (WTO) on Monday kicked off the process for selecting a new director-general, after its current chief Roberto Azevedo decided to leave a year early.
With Azevedo, a Brazilian career diplomat, now set to leave on August 31, the WTO opened a one-month window for would-be successors to put forward their candidacies.
Mainly African and European names are currently circulating in the media as likely candidates.
The first candidacy announced to the WTO Monday was meanwhile Mexico’s nomination of Jesus Seade Kuri, a former WTO deputy director-general, who has also held high-level positions within the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
But while there is no geographic rotation principle at the WTO, it could be unlikely that the global trade body would choose another leader from Latin America.
African countries have meanwhile long insisted that it should finally be the continent’s turn to head the organisation.
Several African names appear likely to be in the running, including former Egyptian diplomat Hamid Mamdou, who worked with the WTO for years.
Nigeria has backed Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala for the post. She has served as Nigeria’s minister of foreign affairs and of finance and currently serves as board chair of GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance.
Eloi Laourou, Benin’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, has also been mentioned as a likely candidate.
The African Union had voiced the ambition to settle on a single African candidate to put forward, but it remains unclear if it will manage to do so before the July 8 deadline.
The AU, like everyone else, believed it had more time on its hands, since the search for Azevedo’s successor had been scheduled to start in December.
However, the surprise announcement last month of his early departure has left everyone scrambling.
– European runners? –
Diplomats acknowledge that Africa may be in line for the post since the continent has never before provided a WTO director-general.
But a growing number of voices are also being raised for putting a representative from a developed country in charge, to ensure an economy category alternance after seven years with a Brazilian at the helm.
And a number of Europeans are reportedly interested in the post.
A source in Brussels confirmed to AFP that Irishman Phil Hogan, who has served as European Commissioner for Trade since 2019, is thinking about throwing his hat into the ring.
Other European names circulating include Dutch Foreign Trade Minister Sigrid Kaag, although her spokesperson told AFP that she was “not available” to become head of WTO.
Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzales, who stood against Azevedo in 2013 and who until recently ran the International Trade Centre, an organisation linked to the WTO, has also been mentioned.
But a spokesman told AFP she had enough on her plate currently with her foreign minister job.
The Europeans are expected to discuss the situation on Tuesday, with the aim of coming up with a single candidate.
If they want to have a chance, they will also need to convince the other developed nations, including the United States, to back their choice.