A key group of Ambassadors within the World Trade Organisation has proposed Nigeria’s Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to lead the body, Reuters is reporting.
If this sails through, Okonjo-Iweala will become the first woman and African to head the global watchdog in its 25-year history.
Okonjo-Iweala, who was Nigeria’s former Minister of Finance and Head of Economic Management Team, was up in the final race for the seat against South Korean trade Minister, Yoo Myung-hee, in the final round.
According to Reuters, she was recommended for the seat three WTO ambassadors, popularly known as the “troika”, after consulting with members in a series of closed-door meetings in Geneva as part of an intricate and secretive process that some have compared to a papal succession.
The troika, led by New Zealand’s Ambassador David Walker, is due to make the formal recommendation to a closed-door meeting of heads of delegations at 3pm (1400 GMT).
It still needs to be approved by consensus at a meeting of the WTO’s 164 members.
Many members such as China and the United States have declined to name their preference publicly although some African, Caribbean and other states have voiced support for Okonjo-Iweala.
The European Union endorsed Okonjo-Iweala on October 26.
However, three sources told Reuters following the contest said that Washington had privately indicated a preference for Yoo, although it is unknown whether it would block her.
The leadership void was created after outgoing WTO chief Roberto Azevedo, from Brazil, stepped down a year early in August.
The WTO is currently being steered by four deputies.
Okonjo-Iweala, a 66-year-old former finance minister and World Bank managing director, will face considerable challenges with rival economies bickering amid rising tensions and protectionism during a coronavirus-induced trade plunge.
Her inbox will also feature an overhaul of the WTO’s top appeals body – which US President Donald Trump’s administration has brought to its knees by blocking judge appointments – and a major trade conference in 2021.
Okonjo-Iweala, a development expert, has branded herself a “do-er”, saying she has the political clout to command influence in capitals.
“I feel I can solve the problems. I’m a known reformer, not someone who talks about it. I’ve actually done it both at the World Bank and in my country,” she told Reuters.
Currently chair of the of GAVI vaccine alliance board, Okonjo-Iweala has also said the WTO should play a role in helping poorer countries access COVID-19 drugs and vaccines.