Former New Zealand PM and WTO leader Mike Moore dead

Mike Moore (left), who died aged 71, was a promoter of the rules-based global trading system and served as head of the World Trade Organization (AFP Photo/HOANG DINH Nam)

Mike Moore, who overcame cancer and a lack of formal education to become prime minister of New Zealand and head of the World Trade Organization (WTO), died Sunday aged 71, his wife said.

Moore was WTO director general from 1999 to 2002 and oversaw China's entry into a global rules-based trading system.

He launched the Doha Development Round in 2001 aimed at lowering trade barriers globally, and was New Zealand's ambassador to Washington from 2010 to 2015.

Moore was prime minister of New Zealand for 59 days before the October 1990 general election, then leader of the opposition for three years following the Labour Party's defeat.

He survived three bouts of cancer as a young man, but had been in declining health in recent years following a stroke in 2015.

Moore was at his at his home in Auckland when he died, his wife Yvonne Moore said.

He grew up in New Zealand's Northland region in the far north and wanted to spend his final months there, but had to return to Auckland in January because of his health.

"Northland made him the battler and fighter for ordinary Kiwis he was throughout his life and career, and that was what drove him to become a member of the New Zealand Labour Party at 16 years old. He was stubborn, optimistic, generous and kind," Yvonne Moore said.

"Having left school at 15 for a job in the freezing works, Mike always believed that his love of reading and hard work would overcome his lack of formal education.

"Mike was always a good reminder to the Labour Party of its working class roots and will probably be its last blue collar Prime Minister."

Moore was first elected to the New Zealand parliament as a 23-year-old in 1972.

One of his portfolios during the Labour government from 1984 to 1990 was overseas trade minister, where he came to believe in the power of a rules-based global trading system and how that, more than international aid, could lift nations out of poverty.

He was appointed New Zealand's ambassador to the United States in 2010, playing a significant role enhancing the relationship between the two countries and promoting the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

In 1999 he was awarded the Order of New Zealand, the nation's highest honour, and in 2012 was made an honorary office of the Order of Australia.

He also had five honorary doctorates in commerce, economics and law.