With the dropping out of South Korea’s Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee from the race for Director General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the path is now clear for Nigerian economist and former Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to become the first woman and the first African to lead the World Trade Organisation.
Okonjo-Iweala, has been favoured by many WTO members, including the European Union, China, Japan and Australia to become the 7th Director-General of WTO..
“She clearly carried the largest support by Members in the final round and she clearly enjoyed broad support from Members from all levels of development and all geographic regions and has done so throughout the process.
I am therefore submitting the name of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the candidate most likely to attract consensus and recommending her appointment by the General Council as the next Director-General of the WTO until 31 August 2024,” said General Council Chair David Walker of New Zealand.
The only stumbling block was the USA which under Donald Trump favored Yoo and since the selection of a new leader requires all WTO members to agree, the decision was delayed.
Robert Lighthizer, the US trade representative under former president Donald Trump and a long time WTO critic, said that Okonjo-Iweala had “no experience in trade at all”.
It has been reported that Okonjo-Iweala’s formal selection may have to wait until after the United States appoints a new trade representative.
Yoo said that her decision had been reached after “close consultation” with the United States adding that the WTO had been without a leader for too long.
The Geneva-based body, tasked with promoting free trade, has been without a permanent director general since Roberto Azevêdo stepped down a year earlier than planned at the end of August after the WTO was caught in the middle of an escalating trade fight between the United States and China.
The Trump administration has been highly critical of the WTO and undermined its standing by imposing tariffs on Canada, Mexico, China and the European Union. Okonjo-Iweala will thus assume control of an organization that has struggled to prevent trade spats between its members.
Okonjo-Iweala, told CNN in August that trade would play an important role in the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. “The WTO needs a leader at this time. It needs a fresh look, a fresh face, an outsider, someone with the capability to implement reforms and to work with members to make sure the WTO comes out of the partial paralysis that it’s in,” she said in an interview.
Okonjo-Iweala has been part of the World Bank for 25 years as a development economist initially and subsequently becoming the Managing Director.. She was also the Chair of the board of Gavi, one of the companies assisting in distributing COVID-19 vaccines globally.