The former finance minister alongside Yoo Myung-hee of South Korea are the final candidates remaining in the race, sources familiar with the decision said Wednesday, in what will be a first for the trade body.
The official announcement of the two candidates left standing is expected tomorrow.
But several sources familiar with the member states’ decision told AFP that Okonjo-Iweala had made it, while one source said Yoo Myung-hee of South Korea had also made the cut.
No woman has ever headed the global trade body.
The initial pool of eight candidates to replace Roberto Azevedo, who stepped down as WTO director-general in August a year ahead of schedule, was narrowed down to five last month.
The three eliminated during the second round of so-called “confessionals” — in which all member states confidentially voice their preferences — were Liam Fox of Britain, Mohammed Al-Tuwaijri of Saudi Arabia, and Amina Mohamed of Kenya.
Jesus Saede Kuri of Mexico, Tudor Ulianovschi of Moldova and Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh of Egypt were cut during the first round.
Okonjo-Iweala and Yoo’s candidacies received a boost earlier this week when EU member states officially threw their weight behind them.
A third and final round of consultations will begin later this month and is scheduled to run until November 6, when the WTO aims to agree by consensus on the next director-general.
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 the Twitter 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.
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.
The global trade body has also faced relentless attacks from Washington, which has crippled the WTO dispute settlement appeal system and threatened to leave the organisation altogether.