Ireland's EU Commissioner Phil Hogan has confirmed he is exploring the potential candidacy to be the next head of the World Trade Organisation.

Speaking in Brussels, Mr Hogan said: "I'm exploring the option of being a candidate for the director general of the WTO.

"I think there’s an important amount of work to be done to reform the organisation, to make it more effective and efficient, but also to deal with many of the important trade issues that are bedevilling the international community now arising from Covid-19."

Mr Hogan, who is EU Trade Commissioner, was speaking following an informal meeting of EU trade ministers via video link.

He told a news conference that he was "heartened" that a majority of EU trade ministers believed there should be a single European Union candidate for the post of director general.

Mr Hogan said he had told ministers that the EU should have a "new focus for our WTO reform policy. The EU’s long term policy objective remains a root and branch reform of the WTO".

He said he would like to see great plurilateral trade in pharmaceutical goods, which would create a "level playing field" on tariffs affecting medical products and devices.

Mr Hogan said the prospect of an agreed EU candidate for the post was "work in progress" and that there would be further deliberations in the coming weeks. 

"I remain in the exploratory stage of my own candidacy at the moment, so we’ll see how member states will subsequently respond when it comes to making a decision in the coming weeks," he said.

Mr Hogan was confirmed as the EU's trade commissioner last autumn and before that was agriculture commissioner for five years.

The post of director general of the WTO will become vacant in September following the surprise retirement of the incumbent Roberto Azevêdo, a Brazilian diplomat.

Nominations for a potential EU candidate opened yesterday and will close on 8 July.

Should Mr Hogan be successful, the incoming Irish government would need to find a replacement EU commissioner.

Croatian foreign minister Gordan Radman, who holds the chair under the Croatian presidency of the EU, told reporters: "Ministers agreed the future director general [of the WTO] should be a strong political figure and supporter of multilateralism, with the necessary experience and ability to broker compromises to get the WTO back on track."

Mr Hogan confirmed he had held a conversation about the position with the US trade representative Robert Lighthizer "some time ago".

He said Mr Lighthizer "is very much of the view that a developed country should assume the responsibility of the DG of the WTO but of course he or the United States cannot make a decision as to who they would support until they see a list of candidates".

"We look forward to seeing who is actually going to be nominated, and we look forward to further discussions in the European Union about a candidate that would be put forward for director general in due course," he said.