Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the African of the Year 2020. She is currently the front-runner for the top post of Director-General of the World Trade Organization. /Photo: Gavi

Nigeria’s Okonjo-Iweala set to lead WTO as rival withdraws

Former Nigeria’s minister of finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is set to become the first African, woman to lead the seat of 164-member World Trade Organisation.

Coast is clear for her to emerge for the top job as the United States government under the administration of President Joe Biden endorsed her on Friday, in what was expressed as a ‘strong support’, according to a statement issued by the US Trade Representative.

All directions pointed towards Okonjo-Iweala as she is now the only candidate contesting for the position following the withdrawal of her opponent Yoo Myung-hee from the bid.

Yoo’s withdrawal is contained in a statement issued by the South Korean Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy on Friday.

She is the current Minister for Trade of South Korea.

Before her announcement, Okonjo-Iweala and Yoo had been the remaining candidates of the eight from various continents who showed interest in leading the WTO following the decision of Roberto Azevedo, former WTO DG, to step down from his post in August – a year before the end of his tenure.

Earlier in October 2020, the panel of three senior WTO ambassadors had told Okonjo-Iweala that she had a wide margin of support and was best poised to command a consensus from the organization’s 164 members.

Sherwin Bryce-Pease, United Nations bureau chief of the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), reported that the WTO General Council chair had recommended Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to be the next DG of WTO.

However, Bryce-Pease said the Trump-led US government had insisted that the South Korean candidate remained its candidate for the position. This led to a stalemate in the process.

The recent change in government in the United States might have influenced the withdrawal of the South Korean candidate.

According to a report by Bloomberg, Yoo’s withdrawal followed advice from ‘dozens’ of former US government officials who urged Joe Biden to endorse Okonjo-Iweala for the post.

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Shortly after the US endorsement, Okonjo-Iweala expressed her excitement over the backing she got from the United States government via her Twitter handle on Friday night.

She also commended President Muhammadu Buhari and Nigerians for their support.

“Grateful for the expression of support from the US today for DG @WTO. Congratulations to Madam Yoo of Rep. Korea for a hard-fought campaign.

“Thank you, President Muhammadu Buhari @MBuhari and all Nigerians for your unflinching support. Thank you, friends. Love to my family. Glory to God,” she tweeted.

If Okonjo-Iweala emerges as WTO DG, it means that she would not only be the first African to hold the seat but also the first woman to ever become the DG of the 164-member organisation.

Once confirmed by the WTO, Okonjo-Iweala is expected to lead the WTO from 2021 to 2025.

Abeeb Alawiye








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