British WTO candidate woos Europe with job promise

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A Briton seeking to lead the World Trade Organization vowed Thursday to hand a top WTO post to a European, even though lingering Brexit resentment is likely to deny him much EU support.

Liam Fox, Britain's first post-Brexit international trade secretary and one of five candidates remaining in the race to head the WTO, told reporters that if he wins he would appoint a European as his main advisor.

"If I become director-general, my chef de cabinet will be a European," he told a virtual briefing.

This, he said, was because if he, as a European, were to win, Europe would automatically lose one of the four deputy director-general positions that it currently holds due to regional balance requirements.

He stressed the need to ensure an "inclusive" cabinet at the top of the global trade body, adding that "we need to be clear from the outset that we will have to act as a global team if we are to deal with some of the very profound issues that face us today."

Fox meanwhile acknowledged that some European Union countries were unlikely to back a pro-Brexit British candidate amid continued anger over Britain's decision to leave the bloc.  

"For some, the issue of Brexit is hugely important, with a very small number believing that the United Kingdom should be punished for leaving the EU by not getting backing for any international job," he said.

The EU, which on Thursday launched legal proceedings in response to the British government's attempt to overturn parts of the Brexit withdrawal agreement, has yet to say who it backs in the WTO race.

- Five become two -

Besides Fox, there is one other man, Mohammed Al-Tuwaijri of Saudi Arabia, and three women -- Amina Mohamed of Kenya, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria, and Yoo Myung-hee of South Korea -- still in the running.

But next week, the initial pool of eight candidates to replace Roberto Azevedo, who stepped down as the WTO director-general last month a year ahead of schedule, will be whittled down again, with just two remaining after a second elimination round.

It remains unclear whether the WTO members will ultimately agree on another leader from Europe.

There is no requirement for a regional rotation of the WTO chief position.

But there have been calls for an African to finally get a shot at running the organisation, which has counted three director-generals from Europe, and one each from Oceania, Asia and South America since its creation in 1995.

The WTO aims to select a winner in November, but some have voiced fear that increasing politicisation of the WTO, which relies on consensus to reach decisions, could draw out the process.

Whoever is handed the job in the end will be taking over an organisation mired in multiple crises, and struggling to help members navigate a severe global economic slump triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.


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