Key World Trade Organisation (WTO) ambassadors on Wednesday tapped Nigeria’s nominee, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, as the best pick to lead the organization, but she was opposed by the United State of America (USA), which said it supported South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee instead.
The ‘troika’ of ambassadors heading the WTO’s three main branches determined after four months of consultations with member states that Okonjo-Iweala was the most likely to obtain the consensus needed to take the top job, WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell told reporters.
The initial pool of eight candidates for the WTO’s top post had been whittled down to just two over two previous rounds of consultations, with only Okonjo-Iweala and South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee still in the race.
The global trade body is thus set to be led by a woman for the first time whichever of the two final candidates succeeds in their bid to follow Roberto Azevedo, who stepped down as WTO director-general in August, a year ahead of schedule.
The troika, led by New Zealand’s Ambassador David Walker, concluded the third round of consultations on Tuesday.
Its decision marks an important step paving the way for Okonjo-Iweala to become both the first woman and the first African to head the organisation.
But the WTO’s 164 member states still need to determine whether they will support her before their next General Council meeting on November 9.
Washington already said it was opposed to her candidacy, casting doubt on whether she can obtain the necessary full backing from member states.
In a statement late Wednesday, the US Trade Representative’s office expressed support for Yoo, calling her “a bona fide trade expert who has distinguished herself during a 25-year career as a successful trade negotiator and trade policymaker.
“She has all the skills necessary to be an effective leader of the organization,” the statement said. “The WTO is badly in need of major reform. It must be led by someone with real, hands-on experience in the field.”