WASHINGTON – The Biden government said Friday the US would support Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria as the next director general of the World Trade Organization, hours after the South Korean trade minister was out of the running.
The Biden government’s decision is the final hurdle that stands in the way of Ms. Okonjo-Iweala to take over the top position in the WTO after South Korean Yoo Myung-hee retired.
Ms. Okonjo-Iweala was supported by the majority of WTO members, but the Trump administration backed Ms. Yoo, saying she was better qualified.
In a statement, the US Commerce Bureau said Ms. Okonjo-Iweala brings “a wealth of knowledge in business and international diplomacy from her 25 years at the World Bank and two terms as Nigerian Treasury Secretary.”
“It is particularly important to underline that two highly qualified women made it to the final round of the examination of the position of WTO Director-General – the first time a woman has reached this stage in the history of the institution,” it said Statement said.
Ms. Okonjo-Iweala, who is a citizen of both Nigeria and the USA, is a well-known figure among international business representatives due to her role as top civil servant and development economist at the World Bank and the Nigerian government.
The Biden government had put pressure to support Ms. Okonjo-Iweala. Dozens of former US trade and diplomatic officials sent a letter urging Mr Biden to take action in the past few weeks. MP Karen Bass, who heads the Black Caucus of Congress, did so in a tweet last week.
“Joining the consensus for Ngozi would create early goodwill for the Biden administration in Geneva and pave the way for them to focus solely on critical substantive reform issues,” said Wendy Cutler, a former USTR official who is now vice president of the Asia Society is a Policy Institute.
The appointment of the new Director General will allow WTO members to address some of the major challenges that have hampered the organization in recent years, including the malfunction of their main dispute settlement system and the subsidies used by China’s state-owned companies have distorted global trade.
David Bisbee, Washington’s representative to the WTO in Geneva, told member states last week that the US is committed to “positive, constructive and active engagement” with WTO members to advance organization reform and address urgent issues such as the current one resolve discussions about fisheries subsidies.
“We need to equip the institution to address urgent challenges we all face – challenges such as global overcapacity in multiple industries that are unfairly costing workers their jobs and the need to protect and protect the environment,” said Bisbee.
Ms. Okonjo-Iweala had previously received support from governments across Africa, the European Union and the Caribbean to become director general of the organization but had received no support from the Trump administration. The WTO chooses its leader through a consensus-building process rather than direct election.
Ms. Yoo said she decided to step down in order to reach consensus on the next director general after consulting with the US
“I look forward to the WTO’s quick release of its leadership vacuum in order to accomplish its main tasks, including restoring order in multilateral trade,” Ms. Yoo said at a press conference in Seoul.
Ms. Yoo said discussions on her US-South Korea candidacy continued during Washington’s transition from the Trump to the Biden administration.
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