World Trade Organization

3 women among 5 still in running to head WTO

Agence France-Presse

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3 women among 5 still in running to head WTO

The World Trade Organization headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, at sunrise on May 28, 2020. - Candidates to succeed Roberto Azevedo as head of the WTO will have one month from June 8 to submit their nominations, the global trade body said following the Brazilian's surprise resignation. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)


The initial pool of 8 candidates to head the World Trade Organization is narrowed down to 5, with 3 of them women. No woman has ever headed the WTO.

Three women – two Africans and a South Korean – were among the 5 candidates still in the running to take the helm of the World Trade Organization (WTO) on Friday, September 18, after the field was whittled down.

No woman, and no African, has ever headed the global trade body.

The initial pool of 8 candidates to replace Roberto Azevedo, who stepped down as the WTO director-general last month a year ahead of schedule, was narrowed down to 5 on Friday.

The WTO had hosted consultations, dubbed “confessionals,” with all 164 member states to determine which of the initial 8 were the most likely to garner the needed consensus.

Women candidates Amina Mohamed of Kenya, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria, and Yoo Myung-hee of South Korea remain, alongside two men: Liam Fox of Britain and Mohammad al-Tuwaijri of Saudi Arabia, the WTO said.

The 3 with the least support, Jesus Saede Kuri of Mexico, Tudor Ulianovschi of Moldova, and Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh of Egypt, were then cut from the list.

“Honored to be through to the second round,” Fox, Britain’s first post-Brexit international trade secretary, tweeted after the decision was made public.

“I look forward to continuing to campaign on the issues that matter to WTO members and making the case for global free trade.”


It remains unclear whether the WTO members will ultimately agree on another leader from Europe, which has boasted 3 out of the 6 it has had since its creation in 1995.

There is no requirement for a regional rotation of the WTO chief position.

But there have been calls for an African to finally get a shot at running the organization, which has counted 3 director-generals from Europe, and 1 each from Oceania, Asia, and South America. 

The WTO aims to select a winner within a few months.

A second round of “confessionals” is due to begin on September 24 and conclude on October 6 with the elimination of 3 more candidates, and the final choice should be made by early November.

Some have voiced fear that increasing politicization of the WTO, which relies on consensus to reach decisions, could draw out the process, but spokesman Keith Rockwell insisted to journalists on Friday that “we are on track.”

Whoever is handed the job in the end will be taking over an organization mired in multiple crises, and struggling to help members navigate a severe global economic slump triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.

Already before the COVID-19 crisis hit, the organization was grappling with stalled trade talks and struggling to curb trade tensions between the United States and China.

The global trade body has also faced relentless attacks from Washington, which has crippled the WTO dispute settlement appeal system and threatened to leave the organization altogether. –

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