‘I’m Enjoying What I Am Doing’: Okonjo-Iweala Denies Plans To Run For Presidency

File photo:  Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala during her visit to Nigeria on March 13, 2021 – her first visit since she took over the WTO leadership. Channels TV/ Sodiq Adelakun.

 

The Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Dr Ngozi Iweala, has denied reports linking her to plans to run for Nigeria’s presidential seat in 2023. 

Okonjo-Iweala, who was Nigeria’s former finance minister, faulted the reports which also claimed she is set to resign from her WTO position as part of plans to contest for the country’s number one post. 

“I just got here. I am enjoying what I’m doing,” she told Bloomberg. “It is a very exciting job and I am trying to have some successes here.”

She described the rumours as “utterly ridiculous”, maintaining that she is focused on doing her job as the WTO chief and achieving some milestones with the organisation. 

Her comment follows recent suggestions by trade officials in Geneva that the Nigerian would be leaving her post, months after she became the first woman and African to lead the WTO. 

RELATED: WTO Working To Boost Vaccine Production In Africa – Okonjo-Iweala

Okonjo-Iweala, Biden Listed Among Time’s 100 Most Influential People

Buhari Meets WTO DG, Okonjo-Iweala On Production Of Vaccine

Scaling Up Vaccine Production

The WTO chief has been at the forefront of the push for COVID-19 vaccine equity.

She told President Muhammadu Buhari during a recent visit to Nigeria that she is persuading vaccine manufacturers to invest in Africa as the drive for COVID-19 vaccination continues globally. 

“We have to scale up and scale out COVID-19 vaccine production, particularly in emerging markets and developing countries,” she was quoted in the WTO website as saying. 

According to her, since it takes a lot to build new manufacturing facilities, boosting the production in the short term is “making the most of existing manufacturing capacity — finding existing sites and turning them around.” 

Her drive for COVID-19 vaccine equity has also earned her accolades globally. In September, American media outlet Time Magazine listed her alongside US  President, Joe Biden; Chinese President, Xi Jinping, and others, among the Most Influential People for 2021.

“As we face a constant barrage of vaccine misinformation, bureaucratic slowdowns across both government and industry, and the rise of variants that underscore the urgency of the situation, Okonjo-Iweala has shown us that to end the pandemic, we must work together to equip every nation with equitable vaccine access,” Prince Harry and Meghan wrote about her on the Time’s website.

Okonjo-Iweala Meets With Female Entrepreneurs, Calls For Global Competitiveness

WTO DG Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

 

The Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has called on female entrepreneurs to be globally competitive.

She stated this on Wednesday when she met with female entrepreneurs in Abuja, the nation’s capital.

She challenged them to tap into various interventions of government that will help in creating jobs, boost trade and income.

Dr. Iweala who recently became the WTO Director-General pledged the organisation’s commitment towards assisting women that will connect to the regional and international market.

WTO DG, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala asks female entrepreneurs to be competitive

 

The WTO boss highlighted the need for women exporters to adhere to a quality package of their products to meet international standards

Some of the entrepreneurs highlighted challenges of infrastructure, funding, and delay in cargo clearance as some of the setbacks to doing business in the country.

READ ALSO: WTO DG Visits CBN Talks About Embracing Digital Economy, Exiting Recession

Dr Iweala, since she resumed her new position, has been on a courtesy visit in the country.

On Tuesday she paid a visit to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Headquarters in Abuja and spoke on how Nigeria can exit recession and the need to embrace the digital economy.

The WTO DG who was received by a delegation led by CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, said Nigeria has enough resources and opportunities to exit the recession.

“I think we have what it takes in the country, particularly our young people to do the necessary which is to move forward as to how we are going to create jobs and move this economy in the direction that would support our youths in the future.

“There are opportunities that can be used in improving trade so that our economy can climb out of this pandemic recession that we are in faster than would have been the case,” she said.

Buhari To Okonjo-Iweala: We Are Happy You Made It, But You Also Earned It

 

President Muhammadu Buhari Monday hosted in audience Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, newly appointed Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), telling her that despite the robust support Nigeria gave to her candidacy for the position, “You also earned it. We are happy you made it, but you earned it with your record of performance both at home and abroad.”

The President said Dr. Okonjo-Iweala was putting Nigeria more on the world map, “and I congratulate you, as well as the country. I know you will represent us so well.”

President Buhari lauded Nigerian women once again, pointing to key positions they hold like Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, and many others. He said the same way, the government would encourage the youths, “so that they can be ready for the challenges of the future.”

READ ALSO: WTO DG Okonjo-Iweala Meets With President Buhari

President Muhammadu Buhari having a chat with Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala at the State House in Abuja on March 15, 2021.

The new WTO DG thanked President Buhari for the pulsating support she received from her own country in the race for the position.

“You nominated me, you wrote hundreds of letters, called up hundreds of world leaders. Without your personal and direct intervention, it may not have worked. The people of Nigeria also supported me massively. The youths were wonderful, always encouraging, backing me up on social media.

“Mr President, the world recognizes what you have done. Since its establishment, only men have led the WTO. Now, a woman has emerged for the first time, and she’s a Nigerian. We are so honoured,” Dr Okonjo-Iweala said.

President Muhammadu Buhari receives Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala at the State House in Abuja on March 15, 2021.

She apprised the President of the opportunities for Nigeria in the global organization, as well as the challenges, stressing that “WTO will do more to help Nigeria, but we need to add value to our products in order to trade more. We should exploit all the opportunities in front of us.”

She added that the support and leadership of President Buhari will help her a lot in her position as DG.

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala assumed office on March 1, 2021, as the first female DG of the World Trade Organization.

‘You Were Absolutely Amazing,’ Okonjo-Iweala Appreciates Nigerians For Support

 

The Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, on Monday visited the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and appreciated the ministry and Nigerians in general for their support.    

The newly appointed WTO DG who was received by delegates led by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama lauded the Minister for his role in contributing to her success in her race for the WTO DG seat.

“You worked night and day along with the Ministry of Trade and Investment and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs. You worked personally to make sure that this happens. I remember calling you so many nights with one complaint or the other or one demand or the other and you kept your cool and were always trying to sort it all out.

READ ALSO: SERAP Sues Buhari Over Move To Borrow N895bn From Nigerians’ Dormant Accounts

“In short, you were absolutely amazing and I want to thank you for your personal attention to this,” she said.

Okonjo-Iweala also appreciated young Nigerians who she said were always on social media cheering her on. According to her, this was a crucial encouragement in the ‘tough race’.

“I say it and I will not stop saying it – without all of you and without support from ordinary Nigerians, especially the young people who were always on social media all the time encouraging me, I wouldn’t have been able to make it because it was a very tough competition with eight of us at the start, over a period of six months – very grueling – so it needed a lot of encouragement.

“It’s a proud thing that Nigeria has been able to make it. I am honoured and humbled to have been selected,” Okonjo-Iweala said in her appreciation message.

Okonjo-Iweala’s visit to Nigeria comes about a month after she was confirmed as the Director-General of the global trade organisation.

As the first woman and first African to lead the international body, her term began on March 1 and would last until the next four years.

Okonjo-Iweala, 66, was nominated as Nigeria’s candidate to lead the WTO by President Muhammadu Buhari in June 2020.

She is a Nigerian-American economist and international development expert who has a 25-year career at the World Bank, scaling the ranks to the second top position of Managing Director, Operations.

A Record Breaker, Ayade Congratulates Okonjo-Iweala

Nigeria's Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala poses at her home in Potomac, Maryland, near Washington DC, minutes before she was confirmed as the first woman and first African leader of the beleaguered World Trade Organization,on February 15, 2021. Eric BARADAT / AFP
Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala poses at her home in Potomac, Maryland, near Washington DC, minutes before she was confirmed as the first woman and first African leader of the beleaguered World Trade Organization,on February 15, 2021. Eric BARADAT / AFP

 

The Cross River state governor, Professor Ben Ayade has congratulated former Nigeria’s Finance Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala on her confirmation as the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation, WTO.

A statement signed by Professor Ayade’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. Christian Ita, described the new WTO DG as the “poster girl of unassailable attainments and a record-breaker who has not only shattered a glass-ceiling but has continually proved her mettle and brought honour to the country.

“We are extremely proud of one of our very best, our own dear Ngozi who has just emerged the first African, the first woman, and the first black Director-General of WTO.

“As the Managing-General of the World Bank, Finance Minister, Foreign Minister, and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr. OKonjo-Iweala brilliantly distinguished herself to the applause of her countrymen and women and to the admiration of the world”.

Governor Ayade noted that the international community found her suitable for the exalted office of the WTO.

He expressed optimism that the state will benefit immensely from her new role.

“I have no doubt that her wealth of knowledge will be of huge benefit to Nigeria, particularly Cross River, and the world at large”, Ayade further said.

Wike Congratulates Okonjo-Iweala As WTO Director-General

Nigeria's Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala poses at her home in Potomac, Maryland, near Washington DC, minutes before she was confirmed as the first woman and first African leader of the beleaguered World Trade Organization,on February 15, 2021. Eric BARADAT / AFP
Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala poses at her home in Potomac, Maryland, near Washington DC, minutes before she was confirmed as the first woman and first African leader of the beleaguered World Trade Organization, on February 15, 2021. Eric BARADAT / AFP

 

Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, says the world has entered a new epoch with the appointment of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Governor Wike, in a statement signed by his Special Assistant on Media, Kelvin Ebiri, said the appointment of Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, a one-time Minister of Finance and Chairman of President Goodluck Jonathan Economic Team to lead the WTO, is a beacon of hope for Nigeria.

The Rivers State governor said he is confident that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, who has distinguished herself as a renowned economist and contributed to the economic successes of many nations, will usher in a new era in the WTO.

He stated the new Director-General of the WTO throughout her career both at the World Bank and as Nigeria’s Minister of Finance, had consistently demonstrated an exceptional taste for transparency, and passion for equity.

“Having served in the Federal Executive Council with Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, I am confident that she will remain committed to her principles of transparency, accountability, and equity, which the world is yearning for.

“On behalf of the Government and people of Rivers State, I also take this opportunity to extend our heartfelt congratulations to you as a beacon of hope for our dear nation.

WTO To Appoint Okonjo-Iweala As Director-General Next Week

 

After nearly six months without a captain, the World Trade Organization looks set to appoint Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as its first female and first African leader next week.

The global trade body announced Tuesday that it would hold a special meeting of its General Council on February 15 “to consider the appointment of the next WTO director-general”.

The announcement comes after US President Joe Biden’s administration last week offered its “strong support” to Okonjo-Iweala, marking yet another sharp split from his predecessor Donald Trump, who had blocked her nomination for months.

Key WTO ambassadors tapped Okonjo-Iweala back in October as the best pick to lead the organisation but Trump’s administration maintained its opposition to her appointment and said it backed her opponent, South Korea’s trade minister Yoo Myung-hee, instead.

Since the WTO makes decisions through consensus among all 164 member states, the US position left the process to replace Roberto Azevedo — who stepped down a year ahead of schedule last August — at a standstill.

Observers suggested that South Korea had long been under pressure from the United States — an ally that has 28,500 troops in the country to defend it from nuclear-armed North Korea — to keep Yoo in the race.

But Seoul suddenly announced last Friday that she was abandoning her bid, just hours before Washington announced its change of position.

With no further obstacles in her path, Okonjo-Iweala is expected to quickly be tapped for the director-general post at Monday’s meeting.

It remains unclear if she will be asked to take the reins immediately or if her term would start at a later date.

Once she does, she will have her hands full.

The crisis-wracked organisation is widely seen as needing reform.

Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, the WTO had grappled with stalled trade talks and struggled to curb trade tensions between the United States and China.

The WTO also faced relentless attacks from Washington under Trump, who, among other things, dealt a death-blow to its dispute settlement appeal system, which stopped working in late 2019.

Twice Nigeria’s finance minister and its first woman foreign minister, 66-year-old Okonjo-Iweala is seen as a trailblazer in her country.

A development economist by training with degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard, she also spent a quarter of a century at the World Bank, rising to be managing director and running for the top role in 2012.

-AFP

WTO DG: Nigeria Reaches Out To U.S., South Korea To Overcome Impasse

A file photo of former Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okono-Iweala.

 

Nigeria is currently reaching out to all members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in its bid to ensure Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala becomes the next Director-General of the global trade body.

The Minister of State for Industry, Trade and Investment, Ambassador Mariam Katagum, disclosed this in a statement on Friday.

She stated that the Federal Government was already in talks with the United States of America and South Korea to overcome the impasse.

Katagum noted that this was to persuade the countries, especially the U.S. to join the consensus in adopting the recommendation of the appointment of Dr Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s former Minister of Finance, as WTO DG.

“We shall keep you updated on this issue and hope that, we would achieve the desired goal of Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala securing appointment as the first African and the first female to head the WTO,” she said.

She added, “Nigeria wishes to express profound appreciation to all members of the WTO  that have supported Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala for the post of WTO Director-General and would reach out to other countries to secure the consensus needed in the final decision on her appointment as the next Director-General of the WTO.”

A file photo of the Minister of State for Industry, Trade and Investment, Ambassador Mariam Katagum, Photo: Twitter- @TradeInvestNG

 

Katagum, who chairs the Campaign Strategy Team for Nigeria’s DG-WTO candidate, hinted that the team held an emergency virtual meeting on Friday.

She explained that the meeting was to review and strategise on the way forward in the light of recent developments in the selection process for the appointment of the WTO chief.

The minister noted that the third and final round of consultations for the selection of the DG-WTO, which commenced in Geneva on October 19, 2020, was concluded on Tuesday.

She added that the Chair of the WTO General Council, Ambassador David Walker of New Zealand, with the facilitators of the selection process, as well as the Chair of the Dispute Settlement Body and the Chair of the Trade Policy Review Body (Troika), informed the WTO members that Dr Okonjo-Iweala secured overwhelming support of members, both in terms of numbers and geographical spread.

At the meeting of WTO Heads of Delegation in Geneva held on Wednesday, the Nigerian candidate was said to have emerged as the contender most likely to gain consensus as DG-WTO.

A photo combination of Nigeria’s Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (R) and South Korean Trade Minister, Yoo Myung-hee (L). Both women are in the running to lead the World Trade Organisation. Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

 

However, her appointment is expected to be adopted by consensus of all members, in line with WTO decision-making procedure at a Special General Council Meeting scheduled for November 9.

The U.S. had stated reservations on the outcome of the final round in view of the fact that its preference was still the candidate of South Korea.

It also said it would not join the consensus in selecting Dr Okonjo-Iweala as DG-WTO at the forthcoming Special General Council.

WTO DG Job: We Move On To The Next Step Despite Hiccups – Okonjo-Iweala

In this file photo taken on September 19, 2016 former Finance Minster of Nigeria Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala looks on during the Opening Plenary Session: "Partnering for Global Prosperity," at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York. Bryan R. Smith / AFP
In this file photo taken on September 19, 2016 former Finance Minister of Nigeria Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala looks on during the Opening Plenary Session: “Partnering for Global Prosperity,” at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York. Bryan R. Smith / AFP

 

Ex-Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is excited about her progress so far in the race to become the Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and is optimistic of landing the job. 

“Happy for the success & continued progress of our @wto DG bid,” she tweeted on her handle on Thursday evening.

“Very humbled to be declared the candidate with the largest, broadest support among members & most likely to attract consensus. We move on to the next step on Nov 9, despite hiccups. We’re keeping the positivity going!”

 

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.

WTO DG: 79 Countries Back Okonjo-Iweala’s Candidacy

In this file photo taken on September 19, 2016 former Finance Minster of Nigeria Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala looks on during the Opening Plenary Session: "Partnering for Global Prosperity," at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York. Bryan R. Smith / AFP
In this file photo taken on September 19, 2016, former Finance Minister of Nigeria Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala looks on during the Opening Plenary Session: “Partnering for Global Prosperity,” at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York. Bryan R. Smith / AFP

 

Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala voiced confidence Friday in her quest to lead the crisis-wracked World Trade Organization after all of Africa backed her candidacy, vowing she would champion reform.

“I feel the wind behind my back,” she told a virtual press briefing after the 55-member African Union officially supported her over her sole remaining opponent, Yoo Myung-hee of South Korea.

The global trade body is set to be led by a woman for the first time whichever of the two candidates is successful in their bid to follow Roberto Azevedo, who stepped down as WTO director-general in August a year ahead of schedule.

Okonjo-Iweala, 66, who 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 Bank, said it would be good if WTO could also boast its first African leader.

“If that person is African and a woman, I think that is great. Because… neither an African nor a woman has led the organisation,” she said.

But at a time when the WTO is engulfed by multiple crises, she stressed that the new chief must above all be highly skilled in political and diplomatic negotiations, as well as at the managerial level.

“The WTO at this time with the challenges it confronts needs a very competent Director General who is able to have the political reach and stature to be able to do reforms and deal at very high levels,” she said.

“It is not only having those skills, but having them all meet in one person at this juncture when the WTO needs that.”

– ‘Reform candidate’ –

Even before the Covid-19 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 attacks from Washington, which has crippled the WTO dispute settlement appeal system and threatened to leave the organisation altogether.

Okonjo-Iweala said she had broad experience in championing reform and was the right person to help put the WTO back on track.

“I am a reform candidate and I think the WTO needs the reform credentials and skills now.”

The initial pool of eight candidates for the WTO’s top post, which has been whittled down over two rounds of consultations, had included three Africans, and the AU had until now refrained from offering an official endorsement.

The third and final round of consultations seeking to establish consensus around one candidate is due to begin next week and end on October 27, with the announcement due in early November.

Okonjo-Iweala said Friday she was thrilled to learn that “all African countries are getting behind me.”

In addition, she said, a group of Caribbean and Pacific states had also said they would back her, bringing the number of countries officially endorsing her candidacy to 79.

She also said she felt “optimistic” about her support in Latin America, and said she felt she had gotten “very good traction and good support” in Asia so far.

The European Union was meanwhile due to announce its preference “soon”, she said.

“I feel quite confident that across the regions, we will be able to attract” support, Okonjo-Iweala added.

AFP

Okonjo-Iweala Thanks Buhari, Nigerians After Making WTO DG Final List

In this file photo taken on September 19, 2016 former Finance Minster of Nigeria Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala looks on during the Opening Plenary Session: "Partnering for Global Prosperity," at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York. Bryan R. Smith / AFP
In this file photo taken on September 19, 2016 former Finance Minster of Nigeria Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala looks on during the Opening Plenary Session: “Partnering for Global Prosperity,” at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York. Bryan R. Smith / AFP

 

Ex-finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has thanked President Muhammadu Buhari and Nigerians for their support after the World Trade Organization (WTO) confirmed her as one of the top two candidates for the organization’s Director-General (DG) role.

“Happy to be in the final round of the @wto DG campaign. Thanks, WTO members for your continued support of my candidacy,” she tweeted Thursday, hours after the WTO confirmed she made it to the final stage for the DG job.

“I could not have made it without the prayers and support of all Nigerians and friends around the world. Thank you @MBuhari and all my friends. Aluta continua!”

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

 

– Final Stage –

“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 trade body’s headquarters in Geneva.

Whoever wins the contest — with a decision due before November 7 — will take over an organisation mired in multiple crises and struggling to help member 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 Saudi Arabia’s Mohammad al-Tuwaijri were knocked out in the second round Thursday.

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

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

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

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 Trade Organisation is set to have its first female leader 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 over an organisation mired in multiple crises and struggling to help member states navigate a severe global economic slump triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.

READ ALSO: Okonjo-Iweala Thanks Buhari, Nigerians After Making WTO DG Final List

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 Saudi Arabia’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 trade body’s headquarters in Geneva.

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

Rather than voting, the 164 WTO member 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 Bank, eventually becoming its number two.

She is also on Twitter’s board of directors and is a special envoy for the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 fight.

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

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

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

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

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

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

US-China tensions

Before the Covid-19 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 attacks 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 that the timetable for picking the next leader was unrelated to the US presidential election on November 3, and fears that the campaign for the White House 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.

AFP