Nigerian woman set to become WTO’s first female leader

Published : 06 Feb 2021 08:40 PM

Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was poised to become the first African and first woman to lead the embattled World Trade Organization (WTO) after a South Korean rival withdrew on Friday and the United States reversed its previous opposition.

The government of President Joe Biden expressed its strong support for Okonjo-Iweala in a statement late Friday, lauding her experience at the World Bank and leading Nigeria’s finance ministry, and pledging to work with her on needed reforms, reports Reuters.

The twin developments ended months of uncertainty over the leadership of the global trade body, and cleared the way for WTO members to conclude a consensus-based process and confirm Okonjo-Iweala as the next WTO director-general.

The US administration of former President Donald Trump had blocked Okonjo-Iweala’s candidacy after a WTO selection panel recommended her as chief in October. The decision required consensus.

Okonjo-Iweala said she was looking forward to the conclusion of the race and moving forward with needed reforms.

“There is vital work ahead to do together,” the former World Bank executive said in a statement.

The US Trade Representative’s office said it was ready to get work with Okonjo-Iweala, noting she was “widely respected for her effective leadership and ... proven experience managing a large international organisation with a diverse membership.”

“The Biden Administration looks forward to working with a new WTO Director General to find paths forward to achieve necessary substantive and procedural reform of the WTO,” it said.

Last week it also pledged a commitment to “positive, constructive and active engagement” on reforms.

The Geneva-based watchdog has gone without a director-general since Brazil’s Roberto Azevedo quit a year early in August and his replacement must contend with a COVID-induced recession, US-China tensions and rising protectionism.

South Korea’s trade minister Yoo Myung-hee, a finalist selected from among eight candidates, on Friday withdrew her name after months of diplomatic pressure to bow out.

“In order to promote the functions of WTO and in consideration of various factors, I have decided to withdraw my candidacy,” Yoo said in a statement. She said her decision was made after consulting with allies including the United States.