Liam Fox has said he is "disappointed" after he failed in his bid to become the director-general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
The Tory right-winger failed to make the last round of the contest, which will be between South Korea’s Yoo Myung-hee and Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
Dr Fox, who famously said the EU-UK trade deal after Brexit would be the “easiest in history”, had been nominated by Boris Johnson for the role.
The decision to put the South Korean and Nigerian candidates through to the final round means that the WTO is set to be run by a woman for the first time in its 25-year history.
The final decision about who will lead the organisation, replacing Brazil’s Roberto Azevedo, will be made next month.
The UK has never held the WTO presidency, though Briton Eric Wyndham White was the founding chief of its precursor organisation, the GATT, from 1948 until 1968.
Holding the prestigious role would have been a coup for Boris Johnson and his allies, who have put international trade at the centre of their pitch to sell Brexit to the British public.
In a statement on Thursday, the former defence secretary Dr Fox said he would be “returning to Westminster” to represent his constituents.
“I am proud to have been nominated by the prime minister was the UK’s nominee for the position of director-general of the World Trade Organisation," Dr Fox said in a statement.
“Of course I'm naturally naturally disappointed not be continuing further in this contest.
“It has been an honour to take part in this selection process over the past few months, to make the arguments on the global stage that have been critical to the future of the global trading system - such as a renewed commitment to a multilateral rules-based system, and about economic empowerment and sustainable development.
“I want to wish the remaining candidates the very best for their campaigns and to seriously thank everyone who's worked on my campaign. I’ve been very grateful for all the support I've received from all parts of the globe. As I’ve always said I believe that fundamentally free trade is a right and I will continue to champion the WTO and the next DG.”
Prime minister Boris Johnson’s official spokesperson said: “Liam Fox ran a strong campaign and he is a passionate advocate for free trade.
“The PM wishes him all the best for the future.”
The spokesperson indicated that the UK would not be switching its support to one of the remaining candidates.
“There are two strong candidates remaining and we look forward to working with whoever is appointed as the new director-general,” he said. “We will continue to make the case for WTO reform and help to deliver on the transformation we all want to see.”
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