The World Trade Organization is set to have its first female leader after Nigeria's Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and South Korea's Yoo Myung-hee made it through Thursday to the final run-off, a WTO spokesman announced.
They saw off competition from Britain's Liam Fox, Kenya's Amina Mohamed and Saudi Arabia's Mohammad al-Tuwaijri in the second round of the battle to become the next director-general of the WTO.
"Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria and Korean minister Yoo Myung-hee will advance to the third and final stage of consultations," WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell told reporters at the global trade body's headquarters in Geneva, following a meeting where the news was announced to member states.
"The third stage will run from October 19 to October 27," he said, with a winner to be announced before November 7.
The initial pool of eight candidates to replace Brazilian career diplomat Roberto Azevedo, who stepped down as WTO chief in August a year ahead of schedule, was narrowed down to five in last month's first round.
Rather than straightforward elections, the WTO eliminates is leadership candidates through a process of consensus and preferences.
Okonjo-Iweala and Yoo's candidacies received a boost earlier this week when EU member states officially threw their weight behind them.
Okonjo-Iweala, 66, served as her country's first female finance and foreign minister, and has a 25-year career behind her as a development economist at the World Bank, eventually becoming its number two.
She is also on Twitter's board of directors and is a special envoy for the World Health Organization's Covid-19 fight.
If she emerges triumphant from the final elimination round, she would not only be the first woman, but also the first African to lead the global trade body.
Yoo, 53, is meanwhile currently serving as her country's first female trade minister, following a career in trade diplomacy and foreign affairs.
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 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.
- WTO sees softer drop -
The WTO forecast on Tuesday that global trade, devastated by the coronavirus crisis, will shrink by less than expected this year but the rebound will also be much weaker than previously forecast.
Revising its prior "optimistic scenario" forecast of at least a 12.9-percent contraction in 2020, the WTO said it now expected global trade to shrink by just 9.2 percent this year.
But it will then grow by only 7.2 percent next year, rather than the previous 21.3 percent estimate issued in April, the WTO added.
"World trade shows signs of bouncing back from a deep, Covid-19-induced slump, but WTO economists caution that any recovery could be disrupted by the ongoing pandemic effects," the global trade body said in a statement.
It further warned that the pace of trade expansion could slow sharply once pent-up demand is exhausted and business inventories have been replenished.
More negative outcomes were also possible if there is a resurgence of the coronavirus between now and the end of the year, it said.
Global gross domestic product will fall by 4.8 percent in 2020 before rising by 4.9 percent in 2021, the WTO forecast.
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