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.
Reacting to this development in a chat with Broom News, the executive director of Africa Development Studies Center, Amb. Victor Walsh Oluwafemi said it is long overdue for an African to be at the helm of the international trade organisation.
Mr Oluwafemi who is also a director at UK-African Trade and Investment Group added: “Come to think of it, this is huge progress for Dr Okonjo Iweala and is a deserved one.
“Moreover, she has proved her competence both at national and international levels. Between her and Yoo Myung-hee of South Korea, she is the best candidate for the job. More so, Africa deserves this seat given its strong involvement in international trade but with limited negotiating power.”
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.