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COVID-19: WTO leadership race hits rock over lockdown in Geneva

The WTO’s effort to select a new leader next week could be delayed

The race to clinch the Director General position of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) may be hitting another rock as local officials impose new restrictions amid rising COVID-19 infections in Switzerland.

According to a Bloomberg report on Monday, this could delay the Nigerian former Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s bid to be WTO’s first woman leader.

The WTO’s effort to select a new leader next week could be delayed for at least another month because of the rapid spread of COVID-19.

Daily Trust reports that last Wednesday, the United States opposed the move of picking Okonjo-Iweala as the consensus candidate, saying it preferred South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee, the second candidate for the job.

The U.S. unilaterally opposed Okonjo-Iweala despite the fact that the WTO selection committee determined she “clearly carried the largest support by members” and “clearly enjoyed broad support from members from all levels of development and from all geographic regions.”

That could subject the position to membership votes by November 9 at the WTO’s headquarters in Geneva, when the General Council of WTO ought to meet.

However, on Sunday, Geneva’s cantonal authorities announced strict new lockdown measures amid a surge in infections and hospitalizations in the Swiss city.

From November 2 until November 29, the area will prohibit public and private events of more than five people.

The development could further disrupt the WTO’s ability to confirm Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the first African and first woman to lead the organization in its 25-year history.

While some in-person meetings may become virtual, senior WTO officials are discussing whether to postpone their plan to make a formal decision on Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment at a general council meeting.

Yoo has also refused to withdraw from the race and has not responded to Bloomberg’s multiple requests for comment.

WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell did not immediately respond to Bloomberg’s requests for comment.

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