European trade chief Phil Hogan mulls bid for WTO top job

Phil Hogan. (Reuters)
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Updated 01 June 2020

European trade chief Phil Hogan mulls bid for WTO top job

  • The new chief will also have to push forward talks to limit overfishing and set new rules on e-commerce

BRUSSELS: European trade commissioner Phil Hogan is considering putting his name forward as a candidate to be the next director-general of the World Trade Organization, his spokesman said on Sunday.

The WTO post will become vacant at the end of August after incumbent Roberto Azevedo said he would step down a year early.

The next director-general will be faced with intensifying US-China tensions and rising protectionism, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The new chief will also have to push forward talks to limit overfishing and set new rules on e-commerce.

Hogan, an Irishman, has been a European commissioner since 2014, initially responsible for agriculture and since late 2019 for trade.

He told the European Parliament on Thursday that it would be “wonderful” if a European became the next head of the Geneva-based trade body.

Two other potential European candidates are Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya and Dutch Trade Minister Sigrid Kaag.

The issue could become a central topic of a meeting of EU ministers responsible for trade provisionally set for June 9. Europe could then put forward a single candidate.

WTO members can nominate their own nationals as candidates from June 8 to July 8.

With three of the previous six directors-general from Europe and the others from Thailand, Brazil and New Zealand, there is some pressure to choose a leader from Africa, with four names from the continent being cited.

Some in Europe though say that there is an unwritten rule at the WTO that the director-general post should alternate between the developed and developing world. Azevedo is Brazilian.

There is also a general consensus that the body itself needs reform, with critics saying it must take into account the rise of China and state-owned enterprises.

“He’s a strong supporter of a reform agenda for the WTO,” Hogan’s spokesman said.


Tanker off UAE sought by US over Iran sanctions ‘hijacked’

Updated 16 July 2020

Tanker off UAE sought by US over Iran sanctions ‘hijacked’

  • The circumstances of the hijack are still unclear and the boat has been tracked to Iranian waters

DUBAI: An oil tanker sought by the US over allegedly circumventing sanctions on Iran was hijacked on July 5 off the coast of the UAE, a seafarers organization said Wednesday.

Satellite photos showed the vessel in Iranian waters on Tuesday and two of its sailors remained in the Iranian capital.

It wasn’t immediately clear what happened aboard the Dominica-flagged MT Gulf Sky, though its reported hijacking comes after months of tensions between Iran and the US

David Hammond, the CEO of the United Kingdom-based group Human Rights at Sea, said he took a witness statement from the captain of the MT Gulf Sky, confirming the ship had been hijacked.

Hammond said that 26 of the Indian sailors on board had made it back to India, while two remained in Tehran, without elaborating.

“We are delighted to hear that the crew are safe and well, which has been our fundamental concern from the outset,” Hammond told The Associated Press.

Hammond said that he had no other details about the vessel.

TankerTrackers.com, a website tracking the oil trade at sea, said it saw the vessel in satellite photos on Tuesday in Iranian waters off Hormuz Island. 

Hormuz Island, near the port city of Bandar Abbas, is some 190 kilometers (120 miles) north of Khorfakkan, a city on the eastern coast of the United Arab Emirates where the vessel had been for months.

The Emirati government, the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi and the US Navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet did not respond to requests for comment. Iranian state media did not immediately report on the vessel and Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In May, the US Justice Department filed criminal charges against two Iranians, accusing them of trying to launder some $12 million to purchase the tanker, at that time named the MT Nautica, through a series of front companies. 

The vessel then took on Iranian oil from Kharg Island to sell abroad, the US government said.

Court documents allege the scheme involved the Quds Force of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, which is its elite expeditionary unit, as well as Iran’s national oil and tanker companies. The two men charged, one of whom also has an Iraqi passport, remain at large.

“Because a US bank froze the funds related to the sale of the vessel, the seller never received payment,” the Justice Department said. “As a result, the seller instituted a civil action in the UAE to recover the vessel.”

That civil action was believed to be still pending, raising questions of how the tanker sailed away from the Emirates after being seized by authorities there.

Data from the MT Gulf Sky’s Automatic Identification System tracker shows it had been turned off around 4:30 a.m. on July 5, according to ship-tracking website MarineTraffic.com. Ships are supposed to keep their AIS trackers on, but Iranian vessels routinely turn theirs off to mask their movements.

Meanwhile, the 28 Indian sailors on board the vessel found themselves stuck on board without pay for months, according to the International Labor Organization. It filed a report saying the vessel and its sailors had been abandoned by its owners since March off Khorfakkan. The ILO did not respond to a request for comment.

As tensions between Iran and the US heated up last year, tankers plying the waters of the Mideast became targets, particularly near the crucial Strait of Hormuz, the Arabian Gulf’s narrow mouth through which 20 percent of all oil passes. Suspected limpet mine attacks the US blamed on Iran targeted several tankers. Iran denied being involved, though it did seize several tankers.