Ireland to Nominate EU Trade Chief Hogan for Top Post at WTO

Ireland is planning to nominate Phil Hogan, the European Union’s chief trade negotiator, to be the next director-general of the World Trade Organization, according to a person with knowledge of the plan.

Hogan had tentatively planned to announce his candidacy on Thursday but the timing is now fluid, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the preparations are private. The nomination window for candidates closes on July 8.

The European Commission’s chief spokesman, Eric Mamer, declined to comment when reached by phone. Mamer said it was a matter for Hogan and the Irish government.

“Big Phil,” as the 6-foot-5 inch commissioner is known in Brussels, has a lengthy background handling WTO matters as the previous EU agriculture commissioner from 2014-2019 and now as the EU’s point person on trade.

That resume gives Hogan an edge because most delegations in Geneva say they want a candidate with the experience and authority to marshal broad support around the much-needed reform of the WTO, which is facing the greatest crisis of its 25-year history.

Since December, Hogan has led an effort to backstop the WTO’s now-inactive appellate body with an interim arbitration process and is pushing an initiative to reduce barriers to trade in medical goods and pharmaceutical products needed to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.

Powerful Job

Hogan’s announcement on June 9 that he was exploring the option of running to lead the WTO left many EU officials puzzled because the European trade commissioner’s job is among the most coveted and powerful of any political post in Europe.

Plus, his five-year term began only seven months ago and his portfolio was packed with issues ranging from seeking a renewed commercial truce with the U.S. and pursuing a long-sought investment pact with China, to negotiating a free-trade accord with Australia and helping to keep post-Brexit Britain from crashing out of the European single market.

A key hurdle in Hogan’s nomination will be gaining approval from the Trump administration. That’s because confirmation of the WTO’s director-general requires a consensus of all 164 members, and any member may veto a candidate for any reason.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told lawmakers last week that the U.S. is looking for a candidate who:

  • can pursue fundamental reform of WTO;
  • understands that the current WTO is incapable of disciplining China;
  • has no ‘whiff’ of anti-Americanism in their past actions.

Hogan will also have to gain the support of the Chinese government, which has been irked by increased EU wariness about imports and investment from China.

Hogan joins four other candidates to succeed WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo, who plans to step down on Aug. 31.

Read More: The Hunt for a New WTO Chief May Lead to More Gridlock

The WTO’s selection procedure typically takes about six months and may well extend beyond the U.S. presidential election in November.

During this time, the candidates will present themselves to the WTO’s membership, campaign for support and sit for a question-and-answer session with the WTO General Council.

Then the WTO’s three highest-ranking delegates, known as “the troika,” will consult with the membership and try to build a consensus around a final candidate.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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