Nigerian economist set to become first African and woman to lead WTO

Suban Abdulla
·2-min read
A picture taken on July 15, 2020, in Geneva shows Nigerian former Foreign and Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala smiling during a hearing before World Trade Organization 164 member states' representatives, as part of the application process to head the WTO as Director General. - South Korean trade minister Yoo Myung-hee on February 5, 2021 abandoned her bid to become head of the WTOm, Seoul said, clearing the way for Nigeria's Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to become the global body's first woman and first African director-general. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP) (Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images)
Nigerian former Foreign and Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala during a hearing before World Trade Organization 164 member states' representatives, as part of the application process to head the WTO as Director General on 15 July, 2020. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini / AFP via Getty Images

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) could soon appoint the first woman and African to take the helm after the White House publicly endorsed her.

Nigerian economist Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, is the frontrunner to take over as director-general after South Korea’s trade minister, Yoo Myung-hee, ended her campaign.

“In order to promote the functions of WTO and in consideration of various factors, I have decided to withdraw my candidacy,” Yoo said.

Okonjo-Iweala, who previously stressed the need for the WTO to play a role in helping poorer nations with COVID-19 vaccines — an issue on which its 164 members have failed to agree —praised Yoo for the post.

She said: "There is vital work ahead to do together."

President Joe Biden’s administration announced its “strong support” for Nigeria’s former finance minister on Friday. It also congratulated Yoo on her "strong campaign" for the role and for being a "trailblazer" as South Korea's first female trade minister.

The Biden administration said that the "US stands ready to engage in the next phase of the WTO process for reaching a consensus decision on the WTO Director General,” in a statement.

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The Geneva-based trade-regulatory body, which selects its head by consensus, has been without a director-general since Roberto Azevêdo quit in August.

Okonjo-Iweala, 66, was favourite to lead the WTO last year, until former US president Trump who described the group as "horrible" and biased towards China, said he wanted Yoo to take up the post.

The rules of the WTO — which has existed in its current form since 1995 — require that none of its 164 members oppose the choice.

The secretary general of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), John Denton, said: “With geopolitical tensions high, the global economy in recession and vaccine nationalism threatening an equitable recovery, there is now no reason for further delay in filling this critical role with the well-qualified candidate at the ready.”

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