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Vowing reform, Kenyan emerges as one of early WTO frontrunners

Kenya's candidate to the World Trade Organization's (WTO) top post said on Monday she is seeking Washington's backing and expressed some sympathy with its criticism of the global body as she emerges as one of two reform-minded African female frontrunners.

By Emma Farge

GENEVA, July 20 (Reuters) - Kenya's candidate to the World Trade Organization's (WTO) top post said on Monday she is seeking Washington's backing and expressed some sympathy with its criticism of the global body as she emerges as one of two reform-minded African female frontrunners.

Amina Mohamed told Reuters a closed-door vetting session last week went "really well" as she outlined her platform to steer the body out of crises from global trade tensions and rising protectionism to a COVID-induced dive in business.

Delegates say Mohamed, a 58-year-old minister and former WTO chair, is one of the favourites alongside Nigeria's Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to replace Brazil's Roberto Azevedo as director general, although weeks of campaigning lie ahead.

The WTO has never been led by a woman or an African.

"The rulebook needs to be upgraded because of the concerns that are being expressed about the rules not being fit for purpose," she said, adding that resuming the top appeals court would be a priority and that she hoped this would be on the agenda of the next major WTO meeting in 2021.

The United States has paralysed the Appellate Body by blocking new judges.

In an apparent nod to Washington, she referred to concerns about the body's "overreach".

Asked if that meant she sympathised with the U.S. position, she said: "Those concerns that have been raised, they would not have been raised if they did not have solid reason to raise them."

The U.S. mission did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mohamed's supporters say she combines deep WTO knowledge with a drive to overhaul its 25-year-old rules. "The difference between me and them is I have worked this system," she said.

However, she must win over those African countries who have expressed support for Okonjo-Iweala.

Over the past week, countries have been hosting Geneva cocktail parties to showcase candidates.

The WTO eliminates them in batches, starting with those unlikely to win consensus from 164 members.

For a Factbox, see here: [L8N2D7249] (Reporting by Emma Farge; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne) ((emma.farge@thomsonreuters.com; +41583062160;)) Keywords: TRADE WTO/KENYA (TV, PIX)

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