Hogan pulls out of race to lead World Trade Organisation

European commissioner floated himself as candidate following unexpected resignation of WTO director general Roberto Azevêdo

European trade commissioner Phil Hogan: he had considered running to be the next head of the World Trade Organisation

European trade commissioner Phil Hogan: he had considered running to be the next head of the World Trade Organisation


Ireland’s European commissioner Phil Hogan will not be a candidate to be the next director general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the former minister has announced.

“I have decided that I will not be putting my name forward for the position of director general of the World Trade Organisation,” Mr Hogan said in a statement. “I will return to my duties of trade commissioner with immediate effect.”

Mr Hogan had floated himself as a candidate for the position following the unexpected resignation of outgoing WTO director general Roberto Azevêdo, amid global economic turmoil and after a difficult stand-off with Washington.

However, the idea of his candidacy received an unexpected amount of blowback both from Dublin and around the EU.

Within the commission Mr Hogan was forced to take a step back from some public engagements amid speculation about his run, and his decisions on policy proposals and trade negotiating positions were supervised by superiors to prevent any concerns over potential conflicts of interest regarding the WTO.

Running for the post would mean he would have to take a leave of absence from his current role as EU trade commissioner at a crucial time both in Brexit talks and in global affairs as the bloc tries to steer a middle path amid a trade war between the US and China.

There was concern in Dublin at losing someone who has been a key background figure in the Brexit negotiations, who is intimately familiar with Ireland’s interests, meets with chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier almost weekly, and at times uses his public profile to play “bad cop” in the talks.

Trade portfolio

Losing Mr Hogan to another post would have also resulted in Ireland having to nominate a new commissioner. Mr Hogan’s replacement would be unlikely to retain the key trade portfolio, and would probably be put into a less prominent role.

Other EU members that supported him as commissioner, such as the Netherlands, were concerned at losing an advocate for free trade in the heart of Brussels at a time when states like France are pushing for more protectionist policies in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Nominations for the post close on July 8th, and EU states are yet to make clear whether they will band together to throw their support behind one candidate.