Okonjo-Iweala closer to making history

30 October 2020 | Economics

Key WTO ambassadors have tapped Nigeria's Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the best pick to lead the organisation, but she was opposed by the United States.

Washington said it supported South Korean trade minister Yoo Myung-hee instead.

The so-called troika of ambassadors heading the World Trade Organisation's three main branches determined after four months of consultations with member states that Okonjo-Iweala was the most likely to obtain the consensus needed to take the top job, WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell on Wednesday told reporters.

The initial pool of eight candidates for the WTO's top post had been whittled down to just two over two previous rounds of consultations, with only Okonjo-Iweala and Yoo still in the race.

The global trade body is thus set to be led by a woman for the first time whichever of the two final candidates succeeds in their bid to follow Roberto Azevedo, who stepped down as WTO director-general in August, a year ahead of schedule.

The troika, led by New Zealand's Ambassador David Walker, concluded a third round of consultations on Tuesday.

Its decision marks an important step paving the way for Okonjo-Iweala to become both the first woman and the first African to head the organisation.







But the WTO's 164 member states still need to determine whether they will support her before their next General Council meeting on 9 November.





Casting doubt

Washington opposition, however, is casting doubt on whether she can obtain the necessary full backing from member states.





In a statement late Wednesday, the US Trade Representative's office expressed support for Yoo, calling her “a bona fide trade expert who has distinguished herself during a 25-year career as a successful trade negotiator and trade policy maker.

“She has all the skills necessary to be an effective leader of the organisation,” the statement said. “The WTO is badly in need of major reform. It must be led by someone with real, hands-on experience in the field.”

Okonjo-Iweala, 66, who 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, welcomed the troika's support.

“Dr Ngozi is immensely humbled to receive the backing of the WTO's selection committee today,” a spokesperson told AFP in an email. “She is honoured by the faith members have placed in her.”

Okonjo-Iweala, who also serves on Twitter's board of directors, as chair of the GAVI vaccine alliance and as a special envoy for the World Health Organisation's Covid-19 fight, saw her candidacy get another boost this week when the European Union threw its weight behind her. – Nampa/AFP

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