Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, 66-year-old Nigeria’s former Finance Minister, is set to emerge as the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), as her sole opponent and US-favoured South Korean Yoo Myung-hee, is reported to have withdrawn from the race.
Okonjo-Iweala highly favoured with an overwhelming votes was vetoed by the United States during the administration of ex-President Donald
Trump, hence the delay in announcing the emergence of Okonjo-Iweala.
According to Financial Time edition of February 5, 2021, Yoo Myung-hee says her decision to pull out was made in ‘close consultation’ with US.
Yoo Myung-hee, the South Korean trade minister who had not stood down from the race despite weaker backing than her rival last year, said on Friday February 5, 2021 that the future of the WTO had become “uncertain” because of the prolonged leadership battle.
According to Financial Times the move paves the way for Okonjo-Iweala, a former finance minister who battled corruption in Nigeria, to be the first WTO leader from Africa.
But her appointment will still require US approval.
The WTO General Council Chair, David Walker, had announced that the meeting to decide the next WTO Director-General had been postponed, because of the new COVID-19 restrictions in Geneva and “current events”, which may not be unconnected to the US election.
All the six past Director-Generals were selected by consensus but in 1999, the WTO could not choose between Dr Mike Moore of New Zealand and Dr Supachai Panitchpakdi of Thailand.
Instead of voting to decide the winner, it took the unprecedented decision to split the term of office between the two, with Dr Moore doing a term of three years, from 1999 to 2002, while Dr Supachai also did a term of three years, from 2002 to 2005.
But the WTO regarded term-sharing as a precedent that shouldn’t be repeated so it introduced a process of successive rounds of consultations to identify the candidate best placed to attract a consensus.
In the current case, after the first and second rounds, the original eight candidates were reduced to two, – Nigeria’s Okonjo-Iweala and South Korea’s Myung-hee
On October 28, the chair of the troika, David Walker of New Zealand, announced that, after due consultations, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was “the candidate best poised to attain consensus and become the 7th Director-General.”
But there can’t be a consensus without American support. And any illusion of a consensus was shattered when the US said it could not endorse Dr Okonjo-Iweala.
Okonjo-Iweala would be the first woman to occupy the position if she is eventually announced having polled all the votes except that of the US.
Okonjo-Iweala, an economist and international development expert, spent 25-year at the World Bank as a development economist, scaling the ranks to the Number two position of Managing Director, Operations.
She served two terms as Finance Minister of Nigeria (2003–2006, 2011–2015) under the leadership of President Olusegun Obasanjo and President Goodluck Jonathan respectively.
She sits on the Boards of Standard Chartered Bank.
She arrived in the US in 1973 as a teenager to study at Harvard University, graduating magna cum laude with an AB in Economics in 1976and earned her Ph.D in regional economics and development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
The competition to the exalted office at the WTO will was shortlisted and narrowed Okonjo-Iweala and South Korea’s Yoo Myung-hee.