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Will the Next Leader of the WTO be African?

The World Trade Organization’s (WTO) process to select a new leader enters a new stage this week as ambassadors from 164 member countries meet with senior officials for private discussions to say who they support. But the politicking in Geneva, the first in a three-stage elimination process, could be a wasted effort according to six former WTO officials and trade experts who say the decisive developments that will shape the future of the embattled global organisation are unfolding thousands of miles away, in Washington, DC. The US presidential election on November 3 is overshadowing the WTO’s efforts to fill the gap left by Roberto Azevedo since he stepped down as director-general on August 31, and could very well end up thwarting the WTO’s aim of filling the vacant top spot within the prescribed two months. Many delegates perceive the main frontrunners as being two women from Africa, Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Kenya’s Amina Mohamed. Either would be the body’s first female leader. The final decision is designed to be taken by consensus. The alternative, a vote, has never occurred and is described under WTO rules as a “last resort”. So, it is possible but unlikely that the organisation would anoint a new director-general without a nod from its largest paymaster, the US.