The first woman and the first woman and the African to head the World Trade Organization would be Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Her candidature to the top post of the global trade regulating body was confirmed after the withdrawal of the name of her rival candidate – also a woman, from South Korea, form the race to the top position.
Her decision to withdraw from the race to the top post was announced in a televised briefing on Friday by Yoo Myung-hee, the South Korean trade minister.
Broad support from WTO members, including the European Union, China, Japan and Australia, have already gone towards Okonjo-Iweala which is an economist as well as the former finance minister of Nigeria.
But the decision to choose Okonjo-Iweala for the top job got complicated after the United States, under the Trump administration, favored Yoo. Under the WTO rules, the decision-making process for the selection of a new leader should have the consent and agreement of all WTO members.
However, the formal selection and appointment of Okonjo-Iweala will have to wait till the United States appoints a new trade representative.
Yoo had reached her decision after “close consultation” with the United States, she said in the televised announcement. She added that it had been too long that there was no leader of WTO.
Ta the end of August last year, the former director general of the Geneva-based body Roberto Azevêdo had steped down from the position a year before his scheduled retirement after the escalating trade war between the United States and China had also caught in its cross hairs the WTO. There was no leader of the global body that has the responsibility of promoting free trade in the world.
There was severe criticism of the WTO by the Trump administration and had essentially undermined the global standing of the organization as it imposed tariffs on Canada, Mexico, China as well as the European Union.
Therefore the task for Okonjo-Iweala is a tough one because it has been argued that the organization has been unable to prevent trade wars between its member countries.
Even though the new US president Joe Biden has already initiated steps to take back the America into a number of multilateral institutions and forums, analysts expect him to take a cautious path with respect ot signing of new trade deals.
Biden again sought to place diplomacy back at the center of US foreign policy in a speech to the State Department on Thursday. But he was also quite cautious to state that the American middle-class should be the real beneficiaries of the country’s foreign policy.
Trade will have to play an important role in eth recovery of the global economy from the Covid-19 pandemic slump, Okonjo-Iweala said in an interview in August. She comes from a part of the world where free trade is ascendant.
“The WTO needs a leader at this time. It needs a fresh look, a fresh face, an outsider, someone with the capability to implement reforms and to work with members to make sure the WTO comes out of the partial paralysis that it’s in,” she said in the interview.
(Adapted from CNN.com)