Okonjo-Iweala set to break 26-year WTO record...with US backing

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala backed by the Biden administration to clinch WTO top job

The United States has finally backed a former Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, to lead the World Trade Organisation after several months of delay of the selection process.

President Joe Biden’s administration on Friday offered its “strong support” to Okonjo-Iweala, citing her “wealth of knowledge in economics and international diplomacy from her 25 years with the World Bank and two terms as Nigerian Finance Minister.”

The move marks another sharp split with former President Donald Trump who paralysed the organisation and opposed Okonjo-Iweala who was backed by many other countries.

The development came after Okonjo-Iweala’s only remaining contender and South Korea’s Trade Minister, Yoo Myung-hee, on Friday withdrew her candidacy for the position.

The US’ decision to back Okonjo-Iweala was contained in a statement on Friday on the website of the US Trade Representative titled, ‘Office of the United States Trade Representative Statement on the Director General of the World Trade Organisation.’

The statement read, “The United States takes note of today’s decision by the Republic of Korea’s Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee to withdraw her candidacy for Director General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

“The Biden-Harris administration is pleased to express its strong support for the candidacy of Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the next Director-General of the WTO. Dr Okonjo-Iweala 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 organisation with a diverse membership. It is particularly important to underscore that two highly qualified women made it to the final round of consideration for the position of WTO Director-General – the first time that any woman has made it to this stage in the history of the institution.”

The US said it stood ready to engage in the next phase of the WTO process for reaching a consensus decision on the WTO Director-General, adding, “the Biden-Harris 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.”

Reacting, Okonjo-Iweala expressed her appreciation to the US for supporting her for the job.

In a tweet on Friday, she said, “Grateful for the expression of support from the US today for DG @WTO. Congratulations to Madam Yoo of [the Republic of] Korea for a hard-fought campaign. Thank you, President Muhammadu Buhari @MBuhari & all Nigerians for your unflinching support. Thank you friends. Love to my family. Glory to God.”

By this development, Okonjo-Iweala will become the first woman and African to head the WTO since its establishment 26 years ago.

The World Trade Organisation had in October 2020 announced Okonjo-Iweala and Myung-hee as the remaining two out of an initial eight contenders for the job, with either of the two succeeding Roberto Azevêdo, who resigned from the job in August 2020.

Okonjo-Iweala had already enjoyed broad support from WTO members like the European Union, China, Japan and Australia.

However, the United States, under the former administration of President Donald Trump, had favoured Myung-hee.

This had stopped the decision-making process of the WTO since the selection of a new leader requires all members to agree.

According to CNN, Myung-hee said in a televised briefing on Friday that her decision to withdraw her candidacy was reached after “close consultation” with the US.

The Geneva, Switzerland-based WTO, whose job is to promote international trade among nations, has had six directors-general since its founding, all of them male.

All along the selection process which started mid last year, the 66-year-old former finance minister had said she remained positive of becoming the first African and first female director-general in the 26-year history of the WTO despite “hiccups.”

Okonjo-Iweala serves on Twitter’s board of directors, as chair of the GAVI vaccine alliance as well as a special envoy for the World Health Organisation’s COVID-19 fight.

~Courtesy, PUNCH.

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