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


By Emma Farge

GENEVA, July 15 (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.

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.

"This needs to be done as quick as possible," said Jesus Seade, a senior trade official in Mexico's government, 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.

"Precisely for that reason, I think the election should not create an obsession to make a decision before and after - we should make that decision as soon as possible," he added, saying the body needs to prepare for a delayed biennial conference in 2021.

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 impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

She also urged Trump or his successor not to leave the WTO.

This phase of the race kicks off up to two months of campaigning followed by a final decision by consensus. The new chief will have to steer the body through intensifying global trade tensions and rising protectionism.

Egypt's candidate, a former WTO negotiator, will present to WTO members later on Wednesday followed by Moldova, South Korea and Kenya on Thursday. For a full list of candidates, see here:

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

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