Okonjo-Iweala Makes Final Stage of WTO DG Race

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Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has reached the final stage in the race to lead the World Trade Organization.

Bloomberg reports that members of the WTO have selected two final candidates — Okonjo-Iweala and South Korea’s Yoo Myung-hee — to advance to the final round in the race to lead the Geneva-based trade body.

If chosen, Okonjo-Iweala will be the first woman to head the global trade body.

The initial pool of eight candidates to replace Roberto Azevedo, who stepped down as WTO director-general in August a year ahead of schedule, was narrowed down to five last month.

The three eliminated during the second round of so-called “confessionals” — in which all member states confidentially voice their preferences — were Liam Fox of Britain, Mohammed Al-Tuwaijri of Saudi Arabia and Amina Mohamed of Kenya.

Jesus Saede Kuri of Mexico, Tudor Ulianovschi of Moldova and Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh of Egypt were cut during the first round.

Okonjo-Iweala and Yoo’s candidacies received a boost earlier this week when EU member states officially threw their weight behind them.

A third and final round of consultations will begin later this month and is scheduled to run until November 6, when the WTO aims to agree by consensus on the next director-general.

Okonjo-Iweala, 66, has a 25-year career behind her as a development economist at the World Bank, eventually becoming its number two.

She is also on the Twitter board of directors and is a special envoy for the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 fight.

If she emerges triumphant from the final elimination round, she would not only be the first woman, but also the first African to lead the global trade body.

Yoo, 53, is meanwhile currently serving as her country’s first female trade minister, following a career in trade diplomacy and foreign affairs.

Whoever is handed the job in the end will be taking over an organisation mired in multiple crises, and struggling to help members navigate a severe global economic slump triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.

Already before the Covid-19 crisis hit, the organisation was grappling with stalled trade talks and struggling to curb tensions between the United States and China.

The global trade body has also faced relentless attacks from Washington, which has crippled the WTO dispute settlement appeal system and threatened to leave the organisation altogether.

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