U.S. backs Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s bid to head WTO

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 19: Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Former Nigerian Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of Fianace speaks at The 2017 Concordia Annual Summit at Grand Hyatt New York on September 19, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Riccardo Savi/Getty Images for Concordia Summit)

The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden on Friday threw its weight behind the candidacy of former Nigerian Finance minister Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in the race to become the head of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

FILE PHOTO: Former Nigerian Finance minister Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. (Photo by Riccardo Savi/Getty Images for Concordia Summit)

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative issued a statement supporting Iweala following a decision by the Republic of Korea’s Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee to withdraw her candidacy.

“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,” the statement read in part.

“Dr. Okonjo-Iweala brings a wealth of knowledge in economics and international diplomacy from her 25 years with the World Bank and two terms as Nigerian Finance Minister. She is widely respected for her effective leadership and has proven experience managing a large international organization with a diverse membership.”

The announcement effectively clears the way for Okonjo-Iweala to become the first woman and, also, the first African to lead the WTO.

It is also a U-turn from the previous position held by the administration of former president Donald Trump which backed Myung-hee leaving the process to appoint a successor to Roberto Azevedo deadlocked for months.

The U.S. also pledged its commitment to engaging in the next phase of the WTO selection process for reaching a consensus decision on the WTO Director General.

“The Biden Administration looks forward to working with a new WTO Director General to find paths forward to achieve necessary substantive and procedural reform of the WTO.”

Following the announcement, Okonjo-Iweala took to Twitter to share her gratitude “for the expression of support from the US”.

The WTO is currently being led by four deputies after Azevedo, from Brazil, stepped down a year early in August 2020.