Candidates for WTO chief urge hasty vetting of next leader amid 'deep crisis'

GENEVA (Reuters) - Candidates to lead the World Trade Organization urged members to reach a decision quickly on Wednesday and address what one described as a “deep crisis” as it began the vetting process.

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Nominations from eight countries have been submitted, including three women, three African candidates and a former Saudi air force pilot, to replace Brazil’s Roberto Azevedo, who will step down a year early at the end of August.

His successor faces an unprecedented set of challenges such as intensifying global trade tensions, rising protectionism as well as a coronavirus-induced dive in global trade.

“This needs to be done as quick as possible,” said Jesus Seade, a senior trade official in Mexico, describing the trade watchdog as being in “deep crisis”.

Seade also rebuffed a suggestion that a final decision on the next chief should be delayed until after the U.S. presidential election in November.

Under U.S. President Donald Trump, Washington has urged reform of the WTO and blocked appointments to its top court. But Seade said he thought criticism of the Geneva-based organisation was shared across the political spectrum in Washington.

Nigeria’s candidate, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, also said she hoped members would make a quick decision, saying the world was at an “uncertain juncture” due to the pandemic.

She also urged Trump or his successor not to leave the WTO and to work with the body on reform.

Egypt’s candidate, Hamid Mamdouh, said the top challenge the body was facing was a “fading sense of common purpose” and vowed to “immediately revive the negotiating function of the organisation”. He also urged Beijing and Washington to seek to resolve their trade disputes within the multilateral body.

This phase of the race kicks off up to two months of campaigning followed by a final decision by consensus.

Reporting by Emma Farge; Additional reporting by Frank Jack Daniel in Benington; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Nick Macfie