The World Trade Organization (WTO) will be led for the first time by a woman, Nigerian Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, after a consensus on her candidacy emerged.
Eight candidates were in the running, and on October 8, Okonjo-Iweala from Nigeria and Yoo Myung-hee from South Korea advanced as the top candidates with the “broadest and deepest support from members,” apparently paving the way for the first woman to serve as Director-General of the WTO.
After intensive consultations, on 28 October the selection committee announced Okonjo-Iweala as the candidate most likely to generate consensus, recommending her as the next Director-General of the WTO.
The process requires that the 164 members of the WTO aim to reach a consensus decision on the appointment.
The United States was the only country that signaled it would not back Okonjo-Iweala and sought to block consensus, a major setback to the selection process.
According to an analysis by the US Congress, the US response was “greeted with critical reception by observers, amid concerns about a prolonged deadlock on a decision.”
“The United States takes note of the decision taken today by the Minister of Commerce of the Republic of Korea, Yoo Myung-hee, to withdraw his candidacy for Director General of the WTO,” said the United States Trade Representation (USTR) in a press release.
“The Biden-Harris Administration is pleased to express its strong support for the candidacy of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the next Director-General of the WTO. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala brings a wealth of knowledge in economics and international diplomacy to her 25 years at the World Bank and two terms as Nigerian Finance Minister, ”added USTR.
Since the WTO is member-driven, the Secretariat headed by the Director-General has no decision-making powers.
Its main function is to provide technical and professional support to members in WTO activities and negotiations, monitor and analyze the evolution of world trade, and organize ministerial conferences.
Despite the lack of formal power, adds the same analysis, the CEO is an advocate of the trading system and often wields “soft power,” relying on diplomatic and political clout to help members build consensus. or breaking deadlocks, an increasingly difficult task.
Some argue that the Secretariat should have more authority to submit proposals and promote new rules.