From Uche Usim, Abuja
With the United States government endorsing Nigeria’s former Finance Minister Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala for the office of the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the woman has now cleared all hurdles to occupy the coveted position no woman of colour has ever clinched.
The US endorsement came late Thursday evening and was contained in a statement issued by the Office of the United States Trade Representative.
It said: “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 organization with a diverse membership.
“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 Organization (WTO).
“The Biden-Harris Administration also congratulates Minister Yoo Myung-hee on her strong campaign for this position. She is a trailblazer as the Republic of Korea’s first female Trade Minister, and the first candidate from Korea to advance this far in the Director General selection process. The United States respects her decision to withdraw her candidacy from the Director General race to help facilitate a consensus decision at the WTO”.
The statement added that 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 United States stands ready to engage in the next phase of the WTO process for reaching a consensus decision on the WTO Director General. 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”, it concluded.
Last month, US leaders including Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz, wrote President Biden, urging him to support the candidacy of Okonjo-Iweala.
They argued that she would be the first American and woman of colour to serve as the WTO’s director-general, emphasising that this “will send a clear message of inclusion to the rest of the world”.
In October 2020, Okonjo-Iweala was elected by 110 of 164 countries as the most qualified person to lead the world trade body.
However, she faced stiff opposition from the Trump administration which had backed the South Korean candidate, Yoo Mhung-Hee. The US suggested that the race be reopened.
The Trump administration said that Okonjo-Iweala lacked trade experience to manage such a big body, but she knocked off the claim with robust proof of her experience and relevant credentials.
Once confirmed by the WTO, Okonjo-Iweala is expected to lead the WTO from 2021 to 2025.