Nigeria’s Okonjo-Iweala to Become WTO’s First Woman and African Director-General

Dr. Ngozi is poised for the top post after South Korea’s Minister Yoo drops WTO bid


Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is poised to become the first woman and African director-general of the World Trade Organization after South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee withdrew her candidacy last week.

The United States under President Joe Biden also gave its strong support for Okonjo-Iweala, an economist and Nigeria’s former finance minister, reversing former President Donald Trump’s opposition to the Nigerian diplomat’s candidacy after a selection panel from the WTO recommended her as a top contender last October.

The two women, Yoo and Okonjo-Iweala were shortlisted as top contenders in October from a group of eight candidates over several months, with Dr. Okonjo-Iweala emerging as the person with the highest support.

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However, WTO rules had earlier complicated the Nigerian diplomat’s bid for the top post as it requires all of its 164 members to express support. This after the United States under former President Trump opposed Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s bid and declaring support to her South Korean rival.

The race for the top post at the WTO has been frozen since November when Dr.  Okonjo-Iweala had support from the majority of member countries but former President Donald Trump’s government announced that it would veto her candidacy and back Minister Yoo.

In a statement, the Office of the United States Trade Representative expressed strong support to Okonjo-Iweala as her experience “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.”

 “She is widely respected for her effective leadership and has proven experience managing a large international organization with a diverse membership,” the US government statement added.

The United States under Biden has expressed it is “ready to engage” in WTO and find paths forward to achieve necessary substantive and procedural reform of international trade organization.

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

In a tweet, the Nigerian economist said she is grateful for the US government’s expression of support while also thanking Minister Yoo for the hard-fought campaign for the WTO’s top post.

In an earlier statement, the presumptive WTO leader said the WTO is important to global public health and global recovery from the pandemic.

“Time to support the WTO to get to work on important global issues. The world cannot continue to wait,” Okonjo-Iweala said.

The result of the selection of the new Director-General is quite historic as it assures that the 7th Director-General will become the first woman to lead the organization.  With Minister Yoo’s withdrawal from her bid in the WTO, Ms. Okonjo-Iweala is also going to become the first black woman and first African to assume the coveted and influential post.

According to her biography posted on the WTO website, Ms. Okonjo-Iweala from Nigeria is a global finance expert, an economist, and an international development professional for over 30 years. She is currently the Chair of the Board of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, who is also a US national, also served twice as Nigeria’s Finance Minister and briefly acted as Foreign Minister. She also had a 25-year career at the World Bank.

In an earlier statement at the WTO General Council, she said the world needs a ‘reinvigorated’ WTO claiming the challenges that beset the organization did not start with the current COVID-19 pandemic.

 “Since 1995, the negotiating function of the WTO has not produced many results and although there have been some successful agreements, key areas like agriculture remain stuck. The WTO appears paralyzed at a time when its rule book would greatly benefit from an update to 21st-century issues such as e-commerce and the digital economy, the green and circular economies. Issues of women and trade and Micro Small and  Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) are important to ensure greater inclusion. Bridging the digital divide to enable Least Developed Countries and other developing countries to participate will be key,” she said.

The position of the WTO Director-General is crucial at a time when the organization aimed at regulating international trade between nations amid growing tensions and an escalating trade war between major economies like the United States and China.

The WTO was established on January 1, 1995, under the Marrakesh Agreement, signed by 123 nations on April 15, 1994, replacing the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade with the aim of promoting open trade for the benefit of all. The WTO is the world’s largest international economic organization.

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JM Agreda
JM Agreda
JM Agreda is a freelance journalist for more than 12 years. He has published stories in various publications, research journals, and news websites. He mainly covers business, information technology, science, transportation, and politics.

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