Will Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala take the head of the WTO?

The two finalists in the running for the general management of the WTO are finally known. Two women: the Nigerian Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and the South Korean, Yoo Myung-hee.

Of the two major candidates, the former Nigerian Minister of Finance, will she become the first woman and, at the same time, the first African to lead the Organization?

The names of the last two candidates still in the running to succeed the Brazilian Roberto Azevêdo, who resigned on August 31, a year before the end of his mandate, are now known. They are the Nigerian Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and the South Korean, Yoo Myung-hee.

Two highly qualified profiles for the job. However, Yoo Myung-hee, 53, has spent her entire career working for her country’s Ministry of Commerce before becoming, in 2019, the first woman to head this ministry.

In 1995, when the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) was about to give way to the WTO, she was put in charge of this file at the South Korean Ministry of Commerce. She is also recognized for having led the negotiations on free trade agreements, in particular the one linking China to her country. So her chances of being elected are real.

Africa time at last?

But the opposite, South Korean has a seasoned economist who has spent most of her career at the World Bank that she narrowly missed chairing in 2012, failing to face Korean-American Jim Yong Kim. At 66, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is considered one of the most powerful women in her country, Nigeria, where she was the first woman appointed Minister of Finance and twice, but also the first woman Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Most recently, the first African personality to sit on Twitter’s Board of Directors also chaired the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization and led one of the programs of the World Health Organization (WHO) in the fight against Covid-19.

In the eyes of many observers, the Nigerian has every chance to win this race. “I think she did a good job, whether in Nigeria or in the other countries where she worked,” said Idayat Hassan, director of the Abuja-based Center for Democracy and Development.
Already fully aware of the task that awaits her, in case she emerges victorious in these elections, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala reassures that she “is not afraid to manage the USA-China conflict,” for having already managed much more complex situations as Minister of Finance of his country.

Indeed, the trade war between the two giants, which leads the Trump administration to brandish the threat of a withdrawal of the United States from the WTO, is one of the equations that the new director-general of the Organization which will be, in all cases, and for the first time, a woman.

The other site on which the next leader of the Organization is expected is the putting back on track of world trade shaken by the Covid-19 pandemic.

It is perhaps finally the hour of Africa, which, since the creation of the institution, 25 years ago, is the only continent to have never led it.

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