FORMER finance minister Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala moved a step closer to being named the new World Trade Organisation (WTO) director-general yesterday after she was named as one of the two shortlisted candidates.
Dr Okonjo-Iweala, 66, was one of seven candidates seeking to be named as the next WTO boss through a process whereby rather than hold elections, the selection procedure relies on finding a consensus candidate. After a series of meetings and presentations by the candidates, the list was whittled down to five and yesterday, it became just Dr Okonjo-Iweala and South Korea’s trade minister Yoo Myung-hee.
With the next leader now certain to be female, the two final candidates saw off competition from Britain’s Liam Fox, Kenya’s Amina Mohammed and Saudi Arabia’s Mohammad al-Tuwaijri in the second round of the battle. Africa has never produced a WTO director-general before and although there is no rule which says the position has to be rotated by continent, Dr Okonjo-Iweala has good momentum behind her.
WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell, said: “Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria and Korean minister Yoo Myung-hee will advance to the third and final stage of consultations. The third stage will run from October 19 to October 27.”
A winner to be announced before November 7. Dr Okonjo-Iweala and Ms Yoo’s candidacies received a boost earlier this week when European Union member states officially threw their weight behind them.
Okonjo-Iweala, 66, served as Nigeria’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 Organisation’s fight against Covid-19.
If Dr Okonjo-Iweala 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. Ms 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 WTO was grappling with stalled trade talks and struggling to curb tensions between the US and China.