WTO Confirms Okonjo-Iweala, South Korea’s Yoo As Last Two DG Contenders

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This combination of file pictures created on October 7, 2020, shows Nigeria’s former Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (R) in Geneva, July 15, 2020; and South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee (L) in Geneva on July 16, 2020, as they give press conferences as part of their application process to head the WTO as Director-General. Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

The World Organisation is set to have its first female after Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and South Korea’s Yoo Myung-hee made it through Thursday to the final run-off.

Whoever wins the contest — with a decision due before November 7 — will take an organisation mired in multiple crises and struggling to help states navigate a severe global economic slump triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.



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

Britain’s Liam Fox, Kenya’s Amina Mohamed and ’s Mohammad al-Tuwaijri were knocked out in the second round Thursday.

“Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria and Korean minister Yoo Myung-hee will advance to the third and final stage,” WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell told reporters at the global body’s headquarters in Geneva.


The pair received a boost earlier this week when EU states officially threw their weight behind them.

Rather than voting, the 164 WTO states make decisions by consensus only, and have been narrowing down the field of candidates through lengthy consultations.

Full plate ahead

Okonjo-Iweala, 66, served as her country’s first female finance and foreign minister and has a 25-year career behind her as a development economist at the World , eventually becoming its number .

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


If Okonjo-Iweala wins, she would become the first African to lead the global body in its 25-year history.

“Thanks, WTO members for your continued of my candidacy,” she said on Twitter.

“I could not have made it without the prayers and of all Nigerians and friends around the world,” she added.


Yoo tweeted she was “deeply grateful and honoured” to have made it through.

“We need a capable and experienced new who can rebuild trust and restore relevance of the WTO. I look forward to your continued ,” she said.

Yoo, 53, is South Korea’s first female trade minister. She has enjoyed a career in trade diplomacy and foreign affairs in which she struck free trade agreements with China and the United States.

“Both of the women in the final round are remarkably well-qualified,” Rockwell said.


“This is something on which everyone is agreed. We’ve been impressed with them from the very beginning. They are people with long experience dealing with tricky .

“It’s clear whichever woman assumes this job will have a very full plate from day one.”

US-China tensions

Before the crisis hit, the WTO was already grappling with stalled trade talks and struggling to curb tensions between the United States and China.

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

“We do need a director-general, and the sooner she can take office, the better,” Rockwell said.


He insisted the timetable for picking the next was unrelated to the US presidential election on November 3, and fears the campaign for the might cripple the WTO leadership process have not materialised.

After being knocked out of the contest, Tuwaijri said he was “extremely confident” that either of the remaining candidates would “steer the WTO in the right direction, to the benefit of all”.

The WTO forecast on Tuesday that global trade, devastated by the coronavirus crisis, will shrink by less than previously expected this year at minus 9.2 percent, but the rebound in 2021 will also be much weaker than previously forecast at 7.2 percent.