Nigerian Economist Poised to Become First Female WTO Chief

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (file photo)
6 February 2021

The US has given its support to the Nigerian candidate for the top position at the World Trade Organization, ending a month-long deadlock. The move represents yet another split with the previous administration.

Nigeria's former finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, is poised to become the next head of the World Trade Organization (WTO) after US President Joe Biden's administration gave her its "full support" on Friday.

If she is confirmed, Okonjo-Iweala will be both the first African and the first woman to hold the position.

The US move is another change of direction from the Trump administration, which had paralyzed the selection procedure by throwing its weight behind the South Korean trade minister Yoo Myung-hee, in opposition to many other member countries.

Yoo pulled out on Friday after consulting with the new US administration, which had been her main backer, leaving the way open for Okonjo-Iweala.

The US Trade Representative defended its backing of the Nigerian candidate saying that she had a "wealth of knowledge in economics and international diplomacy" as well as "proven experience managing a large international organization."

"The Biden 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," the US Trade Representative added.

Biden administration breaks deadlock

The WTO traditionally chooses its leader through consensus among its 164 member states, but this was brought to a deadlock in October by the Trump administration's refusal to back down over its chosen candidate.

The former president had threatened to leave the organization following ongoing trade disputes with China as well as constant attacks from Washington which crippled the functionality of the WTO's dispute settlement appeal system.

A spokesman for the organization told AFP that the next General Council meeting "could be called at short notice" since the previous one in October had been suspended due to the deadlock.

This would allow the WTO to finally replace Roberto Azevedo who stepped down in August.

Who is Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala?

The 66-year-old Okonjo-Iweala trained as a development economist, acquired degrees from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University, and was previously the managing director at the World Bank.

In her home country of Nigeria, she was the first female foreign minister as well as holding the position of finance minister twice.

(AFP, Reuters)

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