The countdown to who becomes the next Director-General of the World Trade Organization has been declared as a historic 2-horse race between Nigeria’s NgoziOkonjo-Iweala and YooMyung-hee of the Republic of Korea.
According to WTO General Council Chair, H.E. Dr. David Walker of New Zealand,“Based on the depth and breadth of preferences articulated to the facilitators, the two candidates who secured the broadest and deepest support from the membership and who should subsequently advance to the final round are NgoziOkonjo-Iweala of Nigeria and YooMyung-hee of the Republic of Korea.”
Dr.Okonjo-Iweala, 66, Nigerian born, world-renowned economist and international development expert with over 25 years working career at the World Bank in Washington DC has been positioned as the clear favorite to win the race, especially having secured legion of supports and endorsements from the European Union, ECOWAS, African Union and many other world leaders.
With remarkable track records of negotiation, transparency and anti-corruption crusade, she battled corruption as Nigeria’s two-time Finance Minister during which she led Nigeria’s negotiations within the ECOWAS and with the Paris Club of Creditors that realized a wipe out of $30 billion of Nigeria’s debt. She is also a well-known international policy maker.
Having built a remarkable international reputation, she currently sits on the boards of Standard Chartered Bank, Twitter, Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), and the African Risk Capacity.
Okonjo-Iweala strongly believes that a reform of the trade body’s dispute settlement system and an update of its rulebook to address the economic and technological developments of the 21st century are priorities that the WTO’s next Director-General must set and pitches to be the person for the job.
Many experts believe that Dr.Okonjo-Iweala is fully equipped with the negotiating skills, experience and personality that would be vital to repair the multilateral agenda and bring competing interests together at the World Trade Organisation.
Ms YooMyung-hee, 53, the other contender is South Korea’s Trade Minister who has had a 25-year career in government, during which she has helped expand her country’s trade network through bilateral accords with the U.S., China and the U.K.
A seasoned trade official, YooMyung-hee says she wants WTO to offer a meaningful platform for the U.S. and China to discuss their trade disputes and has vowed to play the role of mediator, as well as work as a force for multilateralism, if chosen to lead the organization.
Undoubtedly, both contenders are of outstanding qualifications and are committed to reform. This opinion is also shared by many trade officials including William Reinsch, a Trade Official in the Clinton administration, who correctly noted that “They’re both very well qualified, it’s going to be a fight,” and EU Trade Commissioner, ValdisDombrovskis, who opines that “The two are very strong and very experienced”.
WTO Members view the race as an opportunity to reshape the organization as what the Trade body needs now, more than ever before, is a leader who is capable of restoring the organization’s reputation, restoring confidence in Member States and marshalling Members’ broad support around the organization’s reform agenda.
Advancing two women to the final round of the selection process is a significant paradigmshift that will guarantee a female DG for WTO in its 25-year of history.
According to many observers, of the two women in the final run-off, Dr.Okonjo-Iweala appears to be the strong favorite. Running as an ‘outsider’, she is the candidate to give the dysfunctional WTO a fresh political momentum. If she secures the position of the next Director-General, it will make her the first WTO Chief from Africa.