Nigeria's Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala set to be first woman named WTO boss

Monday February 15 2021
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

Nigerian economist Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who is also a US citizen, emerged as the front-runner for the post of WTO director-general last year. PHOTO | FILE | AFP

The World Trade Organisation has set February 15 as the date for choosing the next director-general, in Geneva, setting the stage for the appointment of Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

The meeting, which will take place virtually, was announced last Tuesday in a media statement.

“A special meeting of the WTO General Council will be held on February 15, at 15:00 Geneva time, to consider the appointment of the next Director-General of the WTO,” the statement said.

The post of the top executive has been vacant since August 31 last year, when the former head of the organisation, Roberto Azevedo, left it before the end of his term.

Dr Okonjo-Iweala, a Nigerian economist, who is also a US citizen and who emerged as the front-runner for the post last year received a boost after South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee ended her campaign.

The withdrawal of Ms Myung-hee from the race left Dr Okonjo-Iweala as the only candidate in the running for the position.


South Korea’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy of South Korea, also indicated that such a step was taken after consultation with the United States.

The ministry indicated that the decision to withdraw Ms Myung-hee’s candidacy was made in order for “the member countries of the organisation to reach the consensus” necessary for the approval of the new head of the WTO, as well as the “need for the early resumption of work” of this international body.

Following the election of President Joe Biden, Washington’s position on who should take over from Mr Azevedo changed. The US Trade Representative office recently issued a statement expressing support for the candidacy of Dr Okonjo-Iweala.

It was noted that “the US authorities are ready to participate in the next stage of the WTO process to reach a consensus decision on the [next] Director-General of the WTO.”

Ms Myung-hee's withdrawal came after dozens of former US government officials urged President Biden to endorse Dr Okonjo-Iweala after the Trump administration blocked her selection.

The two women are the last remaining candidates and the eventual winner would set a record as being the first female WTO Director-General.

The WTO said Dr Okonjo-Iweala had the best chance of getting a consensus after the October 28, 2020, meeting.

If confirmed, Dr Okonjo-Iweala would be the first woman and first African to lead the organisation in its 25-year history.

This article was first published in The EastAfrican on February 13, 2021.