Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has be confirmed as the first woman and first African leader of the beleaguered World Trade Organization, a near-paralyzed institution desperately needing a kick-start.
The WTO has called a special general council meeting at which the former Nigerian finance minister and World Bank veteran is expected to be formally selected as the global trade body’s new director-general.
US President Joe Biden strongly swung behind her candidacy shortly after the only other remaining contender, South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee, pulled out.
“I look forward to finalising the process,” Okonjo-Iweala said on February 6 after securing the Biden administration’s support.
The organisation is also eager to conclude the drawn-out process, having been leaderless since Brazilian career diplomat Roberto Azevedo stepped down last August, a year ahead of schedule.
The process of picking one of eight candidates to succeed him had been expected to wrap up by November, but the administration of former US president Donald Trump blocked the consensus to appoint Okonjo-Iweala.
The 66-year-old will not be at the WTO’s Geneva headquarters for Monday’s virtual session and it is not known when she would take up her duties.
The 164-member organisation’s special session gets under way at 1400 GMT and Okonjo-Iweala is scheduled to hold an online press conference two hours later.
The WTO picks its leaders through consensus-finding, so even though she is the only candidate still in the race — boasting US, EU and African backing — there is always the chance of a spanner being thrown in the works.
She will take over an organisation mired in multiple crises and struggling to help member states navigate the severe global economic slump triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.