What you need to know:
- No woman, and no African, has ever headed the global trade body.
- The initial pool of eight candidates to replace Roberto Azevedo, who stepped down as the WTO director-general last month a year ahead of schedule, was narrowed down to five on Friday.
- Female 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 Mohammed Al-Tuwaijri of Saudi Arabia, the WTO said.
Three women, two Africans and a South Korean, were among the five candidates still in the running to take the helm of the World Trade Organization on Friday after the field was whittled down.
No woman, and no African, has ever headed the global trade body.
The initial pool of eight candidates to replace Roberto Azevedo, who stepped down as the WTO director-general last month a year ahead of schedule, was narrowed down to five on Friday.
The WTO had hosted consultations, dubbed "confessionals", with all 164 member states to determine which of the initial eight were the most likely to garner the needed consensus.
Female 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 Mohammed Al-Tuwaijri of Saudi Arabia, the WTO said.
The three 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.
"Honoured 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 three out of the six 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 organisation, which has counted three director-generals from Europe, and one 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 three more candidates, and the final choice should be made by early November.
Some have voiced fear that increasing politicisation 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 organisation 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 organisation 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 organisation altogether.