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Leadership race battled among three women for WTO’s director-general role

The Geneva-based body declared that three women, two of them from Africa, progressed to the second round of selection to become the next director-general of the World Trade Organization as the field was cut from eight to five.

Specifically, the WTO is searching for a new director-general to replace Brazilian Roberto Azevedo, well-known career diplomat and current Executive Vice President and Director of Corporate Affairs at PepsiCo, who stepped down a year earlier than expected at the end of August.

The 25-year-old trade body has never had a leader who is female or from Africa, therefore, high are the expectations over the upcoming nominees.

Kenya Foreign Minister Amina Chawahir Mohamed prepares to address the 72nd United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S. Image credit REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo

The other five ladies to go through to the next round are Kenyan minister Amina Mohamed, former Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee, Saudi Arabia’s Mohammad Al-Tuwaijri and British ex-minister Liam Fox, after that Mexico’s Jesus Seade, Egypt’s Hamid Mamdouh and Moldovan Tudor Ulianovschi were eliminated.

The new WTO director-general will face significant challenges with rising global tensions and protectionism during a COVID-induced slowdown, most obviously between Beijing and President Donald Trump’s U.S. administration, and pressure to drive reform.

The upcoming round two of the selection process, in which the WTO’s 164 members will give their preferences from September 24 to October 6, will whittle the candidates down to two, to eventually select the winner by early November.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former finance minister of Nigeria, takes part in a panel during the Clinton Global Initiative's annual meeting in New York. Image credit REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo

Unfortunately, there is the possibility that the U.S. presidential election, scheduled for November 3 could extend the process, even if that goes against the WTO’s prescribed deadline.

However, the WTO said the process had gone well so far and that all members had taken part.

“The objective is to have this process completed within 2 months - it began on 7 September so on or about 7 November, so we are on track for this. The process has gone smoothly,” WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell declared in a conference.


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