The World Trade Organisation (WTO) yesterday explained that Nigeria's Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and the Republic of Korea's Yoo Myung-hee qualified for the final stage in its selection process for its next director-general because both candidates were able to secure the broadest and deepest support from the membership.
With the shortlisting, the federal government yesterday urged Heads of State Delegations to the WTO to endorse Okonjo-Iweala on the strength of her antecedents, competence and statement to the General Council.
The duo saw off competition from Britain's Liam Fox, Kenya's Amina Mohamed and Saudi Arabia's Mohammad al-Tuwaijri in the second round of the battle for the position.
In a statement issued yesterday by the WTO, the General Council Chair of the global trade body, David Walker of New Zealand and his co-facilitators in the selection process stated that between September 24 and October 6, WTO members expressed preferences on five remaining candidates during consultations with Walker, Dacio Castillo of Honduras and Harald Aspelund of Iceland.
"Based on the depth and breadth of preferences articulated to the facilitators, Walker told a Heads of Delegation meeting on October 8, that the two candidates who secured the broadest and deepest support from the membership and who should subsequently advance to the final round are Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Yoo Myung-hee.
"The result creates a historic precedent for the WTO in that it assures that the seventh director-general will become the first woman to lead the organisation. These two candidates were chosen from a field of five that had advanced to the second round of consultations," the WTO added.
It pointed out that as members move to the final round of consultations, Walker emphasised that the ultimate objective of the selection process was to secure a consensus decision by members on the next director-general.
"Our aim continues to be to encourage and facilitate the building of consensus among members, and to assist in moving from this final slate of two candidates to a decision on appointment.
"As this is the final round of the consultation process, it should bring us to the point where we can make a recommendation to the General Council concerning the decision," Walker added.
The General Council is the highest decision-making body of the WTO apart from the Ministerial Conference which meets every two years.
"As was the case for the first round, the entire membership remained fully engaged in and committed to this process. The facilitators and I are grateful for this very positive response. It is clear that all members attach great importance to this process," Walker said.
Speaking to the candidates that did not progress to the final stage, the General Council Chair said: "On behalf of the entire membership, I would like to express deep gratitude for their participation in this selection process. It was clear that members consider them individuals of outstanding qualifications.
"I am sure you will all agree with us that in participating in the selection process, the candidates have all made a significant contribution to the standing and image of the WTO."
During the confidential consultations, the General Council members were said to have posed to each delegation a single question: "What are your preferences?"
Members then submitted two preferences to the "troika" of ambassadors.
Walker was further quoted to have said the third phase of consultations would commence on October 19 and run until October 27th, to afford members sufficient time to prepare their positions.
Another factor in waiting a week for stage three to begin is the busy calendar of meetings at the WTO next week, including a scheduled two-day session of the General Council, which Walker would chair.
"During this period, WTO members will be asked in confidential consultations to express to the facilitators a single preference and based on these preferences, the troika will deliver their assessment on which of the two candidates is most likely to command a consensus of the membership and become the seventh Director-General of the World Trade Organization.
"Walker would then call a formal General Council and present the troika's recommendation to the membership for a formal decision.
"Following this third round of consultations, Walker will call another Heads of Delegations meeting at which the results will be announced to the WTO membership," the statement added.
The General Council had agreed on July 31, that there would be three stages of consultations held over a two-month period that commenced September 7th.
The third stage will run from October 19 to October 27 and a winner will be announced before November 7.
Yoo, 53, is currently serving as her country's first female trade minister, following a career in trade diplomacy and foreign affairs.
Okonjo-Iweala, 66, served as her country's first female finance and foreign minister, and has a 25-year career behind her as a development economist at the World Bank, eventually becoming its number two.
She is also on Twitter's board of directors and is a special envoy for the World Health Organisation's COVID-19 fight.
According to analysts, Okonjo-Iweala's high professional/personal qualities, international contacts and impeccable records as Nigeria's former Finance minister/Foreign Affairs minister and as former managing director of the World Bank, stand her high above the other contestant.
She is a renowned global finance expert, an economist and international development professional with over 30 years of experience, having worked in Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America, and North America.
She is presently the Chair of the Board of GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance. Since its creation in 2000, GAVI has immunised over 760 million children across the globe. She also sits on the boards of Standard Chartered Plc and Twitter Inc. She was recently appointed African Union Special Envoy to mobilise international financial support in the fight against COVID-19, as well as Envoy for the World Health Organisation's access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator.
The Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Ms. Kristalina Georgieva, recently appointed Okonjo-Iweala to serve as a member of her newly-established External Advisory Group.
In addition, Okonjo-Iweala served twice as Nigeria's Finance minister, from 2003-2006 and 2011-2015 and briefly as Nigeria's Foreign Affairs minister in 2006, the first woman to hold both positions.
As Finance minister, Okonjo-Iweala steered Nigeria through the varying degree of reforms, particularly on macroeconomic, trade, financial and real sector issues.
As Managing Director (Operations) of the World Bank, her several portfolios included oversight responsibility for the World Bank's $81 billion operational portfolio in Africa, South Asia, Europe, and Central Asia.
Okonjo-Iweala spearheaded several World Bank initiatives to assist low-income countries during the 2008-2009 food crises and later in the trying period of the global financial crisis.
On the other hand, Yoo is South Korea's trade minister. During her 25-year career in government, she helped expand her country's trade network through bilateral accords with the US, China and the UK.
Okonjo-Iweala Expresses Gratitude
Following her shortlisting, Okonjo-Iweala yesterday expressed appreciation to members of the Geneva-based organisation, President Muhammadu Buhari, Nigerians and her friends around the world for their support.
This, she said, propelled her into the final stage of the selection process, even as she stressed that the struggle continues.
Nigeria's former minister stated on her Twitter handle that she was, "happy to be in the final round of the #WTO DG campaign! Thanks, WTO members for your continued support of my candidacy.
Thanks be to God.
"I could not have made it without the prayers and support of all Nigerians and friends around the world.
"Thank you Nigerians, Thank you, President Buhari and all my friends.
FG Lobbies Delegates to Endorse Nigeria's Candidate
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Minister of State for Industry, Trade and Investment, Ambassador Mariam Katagum, yesterday urged Heads of State Delegations to the WTO to endorse Nigeria's candidate, Okonjo-Iweala, for the position of director general of the organisation on the strength of her antecedents, competence and statement to the General Council.
In a statement issued yesterday, the minister who is the Chairperson of the Okonjo-Iweala Campaign Team, charged the heads of delegations to consider the statement of intent and agenda submitted by the former minister of finance, describing her as "the best choice for the job."
She commended the series of endorsements of Okonjo-Iweala's candidacy from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) as well as the European Union (EU) as "an excellent testimony of her eminent qualification for the top job," adding that " the WTO of today needs a DG with multiple skills to revive the challenged spirit of trade liberalisation worldwide."
The minister said: "The WTO faces a lot of problems currently. Confronting these challenges necessarily requires building trust among the membership especially as the problems are not solely of a technical nature. Only a DG with the requisite political and negotiating skills coupled with multilateral experience can ensure deep engagement of the members in order to restore trust and build a truly efficient organisation. Dr Iweala is the right fit."
Katagum further noted: "Dr. Iweala's qualities and experience in managing multilateral issues, in trade facilitation and negotiation as well as brokering deals and agreements with high political stakes, puts her in good standing. Her suitability is a product of past and present experience garnered from her Vice Presidency at the World Bank; Finance Ministry portfolio in Nigeria; and her other current global assignments, including with the Gavi Board where she is the chairperson.
"At a time when the world is grappling with the devastating fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic on the world economy, a person of Okonjo-Iweala's standing is required to steer the ship of the WTO. When all indices are taken into consideration, the WTO indeed needs an internationalist, a multilateralist, a skilled and tested negotiator - all traits the General Council can find in the Nigerian and ECOWAS nominee."
African Union Rallies Support for Okonjo-Iweala
The African Union (AU) yesterday called on all its member states to mobilise support for Okonjo-Iweala.
In a statement yesterday, the President of South Africa and Chairperson of the AU, Mr. Cyril Ramaphosa, congratulated Okonjo-Iweala on her advancement to the third and final stage of the selection process.
According to the South African president, the Nigeria's former minister is the first African woman to stand for election and reach the final stage of selection for the WTO DG position.
Ramaphosa stated: "Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is a highly distinguished African, who has excelled in various public offices, in her native Nigeria, including responsibilities in the AU, and in numerous international assignments.
"At a time when international organisations need to be repurposed, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is the right person to reposition the WTO in order to be an effective instrument for facilitating a fair, just, equitable and rules-based trading system. I have no doubt that she has the credentials and capability to restore order in an otherwise turbulent multilateral trading system."
Ramaphosa, therefore, urged, "all member states of the African Union to rally behind Dr. Okonjo-Iweala during the final round of nominations, which will see for the first time in the history of the WTO, the appointment of a female Director-General and most likely and preferably, one coming from the African continent."
He expressed optimism that other regions and countries would also unite and support the African candidate, saying her leadership "of the WTO will assist in the full integration of the continent as an important player in the global multilateral trading system, particularly at the time when the continent is working on operationalising the biggest free trade area in the world, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA)."
Ramaphosa expressed pride in the high calibre of the candidates from the continent, including Mr. Abdel Hamid Mamdouh of Egypt and Ms. Amina Mohamed of Kenya, whom he thanked for availing themselves for the WTO DG selection process.
He also urged the continent to "rally behind Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, sparing no effort to ensure that she makes history by being elected as the first African to be at the helm of the WTO."