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Swiss-Egyptian lawyer in contention for the top post at the WTO

Hamid Mamdouh, a Geneva-based Swiss-Egyptian lawyer, has been officially nominated by Egypt to become the next director general of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The dual national is a former trade negotiator for Egypt and ex-WTO official who lives and works as a lawyer in the Swiss city. Mamdouh, 67, is currently advising the G20 presidency holder Saudi Arabia on trade and investment matters.

A press statement issued on Tuesday said he would bring 35 years of “exceptional trade diplomacy and negotiating experience to the table, and steer the organization towards more collaboration, relevance, and effectiveness”.

Brazilian Director-General Roberto Azevedo surprised the WTO’s 164 members in mid-May by announcing he would quit at the end of August, a year earlier than expected.

With three of the previous six WTO directors-general from Europe and the others from Thailand, Brazil and New Zealand, there is pressure to choose a leader from Africa, observers say.

WTO members can nominate their own nationals as candidates from June 8 to July 8. Only two names have been announced so far: Mamdouh and Mexico’s candidate, Jesus Seade, a veteran trade official who helped helped found the WTO in the early 1990s.

There are reportedly three other possible contenders from Africa: Yonov Frederick Agah of Nigeria, a WTO deputy director-general; Eloi Laourou, Benin’s ambassador to the UN and Amina Mohamed, a former Kenyan ambassador to the WTO and now the country’s sports minister.

The names of Phil Hogan, Ireland’s European trade commissioner, Spanish foreign minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya and Dutch trade minister Sigrid Kaag, have also been mentioned in the press. 

The Geneva-based body typically takes nine months to choose a new boss but now wants to do so in three. It prefers to pick a chief by consensus, moving to a vote only as a last resort.