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International relations

Nigerian, South Korean make last round of WTO chief race: Reuters

Geneva-based trade body will be headed by a woman for the first time

The World Trade Organization has only had male leaders in its quarter-century history.   © Reuters

GENEVA (Reuters) -- Nigeria's Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and South Korea's Yoo Myung-hee are through to the final round of selection to become the next director-general of the World Trade Organization, three sources said on Wednesday.

The reduction of the field from five to two means, if confirmed, that the 25-year-old, Geneva-based trade body would be led by a woman for the first time.

Okonjo-Iweala, 66, a former Nigerian finance and foreign minister Okonjo-Iweala, is an economist and development specialist now serving as board chair of global vaccine alliance Gavi. She has said the WTO should play a role in helping poorer countries access COVID-19 drugs and vaccines.

Yoo, 53, South Korea's trade minister, is pitching herself as an experienced operator on trade in challenging times after clinching deals with the United States, China and others, while supporting global rules.

Both received backing from the 27 countries of the European Union this week. The other countries of the 164-member WTO have generally not revealed which names they put forward in the second round that ran from Sept. 24 to Oct. 6.

Kenyan sports minister Amina Mohamed, Saudi royal court adviser Mohammad Al-Tuwaijri and British ex-international trade minister Liam Fox also competed in the second selection round. The first round featured eight candidates.

The WTO is looking for a new director-general to replace Brazilian Roberto Azevedo, who stepped down a year earlier than expected at the end of August. It aims to find a successor by early November.

The winning candidate will face formidable challenges with rising global tensions and protectionism during a COVID-induced slowdown, most obviously between China and President Donald Trump's U.S. administration, as well as pressure to drive reforms.

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