Nigerian woman face off Korean candidate to lead WTO

October 10, 2020 |

For the first time in its 25-year history, the World Trade Organization (WTO) will be led by a woman, after the director-general race narrowed down to female candidates from Nigeria and South Korea while contenders from the UK, Kenya, and Saudi Arabia were eliminated.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria and Yoo Myung-hee of South Korea will compete in the final run-off and the result will be announced in early November, trade officials said on Thursday.

The outcome was much expected after Kenya’s Amina Mohamed – one of the early favorites – faltered as the EU supported her rivals and opposition also emerged from other big countries.

According to most observers, Nigeria’s Okonjo-Iweala is a strong favorite. If she is chosen, she will be the first WTO director-general from Africa. Ms Okonjo-Iweala is a famous policymaker, having negotiated a large sovereign debt write-down as the finance minister of Nigeria and also having served as a managing director at the World Bank (WB).

According to Ambassadors to the WTO, Japan and China were likely to exercise a de facto veto against Ms Yoo due to political tensions with South Korea, although Tokyo insisted it would back candidates on merit.

Ms Okonjo-Iweala has emphasized her experience managing a huge multilateral organization – the WB, as well as her role as chairwoman of the board of Gavi, a public-private alliance to develop vaccines for poor countries.

But she has to overcome a perception that she has relatively little knowledge of the complexities of trade due to her limited experience at the WTO and never having served as a trade minister.

She said in a recent interview with the Financial Times that they had narrowed trade to become negotiations. She raised the question that if the problem of the WTO was people with negotiating skills, so why the problem hadn’t been solved.

The director-general of the WTO serves a term of four years. The role became available due to the unexpected early resignation of the former director-general Roberto Azevedo. The Brazilian had held the job since 2013 and stepped down in September.

The contest comes out when the WTO is under pressure to reform from the US, which claims it couldn’t restrain Chinese state capitalism.

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