BERLIN/BRUSSELS (Reuters) – EU governments agreed on Monday on the qualities they want from the next leader of the World Trade Organization, but no longer back the same candidates after Hungary said committed Brexiteer Liam Fox would be one of its picks.
The bloc were united on their choices in the first round of selection as the field was cut from eight to five.
But Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said on Sunday evening his country would back Fox, a former Conservative trade minister who strongly supported Britain’s exit from the European Union, as well as Kenya’s Amina Mohamed in round two.
A number of EU countries, notably France, oppose Fox’s candidacy, EU diplomats say.
Earlier on Monday, Fox told a briefing that he was hoping for more EU support. “I would say that the UK is following exactly the agenda that the EU would have had, had the EU had a candidate in this race, which of course it doesn’t.”
His pro-free trade agenda would be beneficial to most European economies, such as Hungary, the 10th most open economy in the world in terms of trade as a percentage of GDP, or two other top 10 nations Luxembourg or Ireland.
German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier told a news conference after EU trade ministers met in Berlin that the EU had done well to get three of its picks through – Mohamed, Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and South Korea’s Yoo Myung-hee.
He added there was a good chance that an overwhelming majority of EU countries would stick together on the issue.
European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis, who now oversees trade at the EU executive, said there was “strong agreement” among ministers on Monday that the next WTO director-general should be someone capable of managing profound reform.
“To be credible the new leader of the WTO must enjoy the trust of WTO members and be able to present balanced views that reflect the diverse nature of WTO membership.”
The WTO has said it wants to select the winning candidate by early November.
(Reporting by Michael Nienaber in Berlin, Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels and Krisztina Than in Budapest; Editing by Mark Heinrich)