Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala expected to become 1st woman, African to helm WTO

By Clyde Hughes*

Feb. 15 (UPI) — U.S.-trained Nigerian economist Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is expected Monday to become the first African and first woman chosen to lead the World Trade Organization.

The WTO will hold a virtual meeting Monday to select its director-general. Okonjo-Iweala is among just two candidates for the post and the clear front-runner.

Okonjo-Iweala, who earned a bachelor’s degree in development economics at Harvard and a doctorate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was one of eight candidates nominated for director-general last summer.

The finalists were ultimately narrowed to Okonjo-Iweala and South Korean trade minister Yoo Myung-hee.

Robert Azevedo resigned as WTO chief last August, a year before the end of his second term, saying he felt the organization needed a change in leadership.

Okonjo-Iweala, 66, is chair of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization and sits on the board of Standard Chartered and Twitter. She served two tenures as Nigerian finance minister and spent 25 years as an economist at the World Bank, where she rose to its No. 2 position of managing director of operations.

Part of the reason Okonjo-Iweala is considered the front-runner is she’s been endorsed by U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration.

“Dr. Okonjo-Iweala brings a wealth of knowledge in economics and international diplomacy from her 25 years with the World Bank and two terms as Nigerian finance minister,” the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative said in a statement earlier this month.

“She is widely respected for her effective leadership and has proven experience managing a large international organization with a diverse membership.”

If chosen as head of the WTO, two top challenges will be examining the trade war between the United States and China, the world’s two largest economies, and U.S. sanctions against the European Union and visa versa.

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