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South Korean Yoo pulls out for Nigeria Okonjo-Iweala to lead WTO

 South Korean Yoo pulls out for Nigeria Okonjo-Iweala to lead WTO South Korean trade minister Yoo Myung-hee has pulled out of the race to be...

 South Korean Yoo pulls out for Nigeria Okonjo-Iweala to lead WTO

South Korean trade minister Yoo Myung-hee has pulled out of the race to become director-general of the World Trade Organization, leaving the field clear for Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to become the first African and female head of the body that regulates global trade. 

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

Okonjo-Iweala’s victory will be welcomed as a major boost for African trade and diplomacy, further amplifying the continent’s voice following the launch of the ambitious African Continental Free Trade Area in January.

The former Nigerian finance minister and World Bank managing director had gained broad support among member states in the final round of deliberations in October, but her accession was blocked by the US administration of then-President Donald Trump, which continued to support Myung-hee and argued that the WTO “must be led by someone with real, hands-on experience in the field.”

When Trump was defeated by President Joe Biden in November’s election, analysts predicted that US opposition to Okonjo-Iweala’s candidacy would melt away as part of a US bid to improve ties with African states and reassert its commitment to a multilateral trading system.  

Okonjo-Iweala, who is also a US citizen, had already secured the backing of the European Union and African member states, prompting WTO general council chair David Walker to recommend her for the director-generalship in October based on the “broad support from members from all levels of development and all geographic regions” throughout the process.  

Okonjo-Iweala ran on a platform of using her political skills and reputation as an honest broker – honed during two stints as finance minister of Nigeria and a stint as managing director at the World Bank – to forge high-level political agreements between global decision makers.  

She has expressed confidence in her ability to mediate disputes between the sparring US and China, and claims to be the only candidate working at the intersection of trade and public health, which she says will enable the trade system to better deliver vaccines and medical supplies during the Covid-19 pandemic.  

In October, Sven Simon and Bernd Lange, co-chairs of the European Parliament’s Steering Group on the Parliamentary Conference on the WTO, argued that Okonjo-Iweala “revealed a deep understanding of the fault lines dividing the WTO membership.”   

“The priorities she set out for her first steps after being appointed to the position reveal a clear-eyed agenda, tackling head on key topics such as special and differential treatment, industrial subsidies and dispute settlement reform, while recognising the need for positive momentum through the conclusion of agreements on issues such as fisheries, e-commerce and health.” 


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