Former WTO, Goldman and BP chief Peter Sutherland dies at 71

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Former World Trade Organization director general Peter Sutherland, who was also a long-serving chairman of oil giant BP BP.L and the overseas arm of Goldman Sachs GS.N, died on Sunday aged 71.

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The Jesuit-educated barrister, who also served as Ireland’s youngest attorney general and then youngest European Union commissioner during the 1980s, had been ill for some time, Irish broadcaster RTE reported, citing a statement from his family.

“Peter Sutherland was a statesman in every sense of the word; an Irishman, a committed European and a proud internationalist,” Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said in a statement.

“He had a passion for public affairs and made a significant contribution to Ireland, Europe and the world over a number of decades.”

Born in Dublin in 1946, Sutherland was appointed, at the age of 35, as the state’s most senior lawyer after little more than a decade at the bar. Four years later he was nominated as Ireland’s EU commissioner, holding the competition portfolio as the EU’s single market began to take shape.

Sutherland returned from Brussels briefly in 1989 and after a stint as chairman of Allied Irish Banks he became the WTO’s first chief in 1995, having previously been head of its precursor, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).

Praising his international contribution to business, politics and human rights, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Sunday described Sutherland as “a giant of Irish, European and international public life”.

A spokesman for the WTO said that Sutherland’s leadership, vision and courage were instrumental in the birth of the world trade body and that the lengthy Uruguay Round negotiations that led to its creation were by no means assured until the Irishman took charge.

While spearheading the WTO, Sutherland took up his roles at Goldman Sachs and BP. He was the oil major’s longest-serving chairman, from 1997 to 2009, and held that role even longer at Goldman Sachs International, retiring in 2015 after 20 years in the job.

A passionate advocate of globalization and the EU and one of Ireland’s best known public figures on the international stage, Sutherland continued in his role as United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General for International Migration until close to his death.

“He leaves an important legacy through his work as Secretary-General, having brought the importance of migration to the forefront of public thought and policy,” Irish President Michael D. Higgins said in a statement.

Additional reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek in Brussels and Tom Miles in Geneva; Editing by David Goodman