The United States government on Thursday turned full circle from its previous position to endorse Nigeria’s former Finance minister and one-time Managing Director (Operations) of the World Bank, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Mrs Okonjo-Iweala’s endorsement is contained in a statement issued from the Office of the United States Trade Representative which previously led the bulwark of the opposition a few months ago against her election.
The statement reads: “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 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 statement said.
Noting the decision of Mrs Okonjo-Iweala’s only opposition in the race and Republic of Korea’s Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee to withdraw her candidacy, the US government congratulated her for her strong campaign for the position.
Describing her as a trailblazer, being Republic of Korea’s first female trade minister and the first candidate from Korea to advance this far in the Director-General’s selection process, the US government expressed its respects for her decision to withdraw her candidacy from the race to help facilitate a consensus decision at the WTO.
“It is particularly important to underscore that two highly qualified women made it to the final round of consideration for the position of WTO Director General — the first time that any woman has made it to this stage in the history of the institution.
“The United States stands ready to engage in the next phase of the WTO process for reaching a consensus decision on the WTO Director General. The Biden-Harris 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”.
At the peak of the race last October, Mrs Okonjo-Iweala was already coasting home to emerge as the seventh head of the global trade group despite opposition from the world’s largest economy, the U.S.
On November 9, the WTO General Council, which is the highest decision-making body of the WTO after the Ministerial Conference, was scheduled to ratify the report of the WTO DG selection panel (Troika), which overwhelmingly identified Mrs Okonjo-Iweala as the candidate preferred by most of the members of the group to head the organisation.
Mrs Okonjo-Iweala garnered the overwhelming backing from the vast majority of WTO member-countries, including the European Union, Japan and China.
But, ahead of the meeting, the US government delegation emerged as the only strong opposition to Mrs Okonjo-Iweala’s confirmation during the WTO Head of Delegation meeting.
The U.S. representative at the WTO was insisting on the South Korea’s candidate as a contender in the election, saying Washington would not recognise Mrs Okonjo-Iweala as the consensus candidate.
They said their support for the Korean candidate was based on their desire to see a bona fide trade expert with a distinguished career as a successful trade negotiator and trade policy maker to lead the organization.
The U.S. government said the WTO was badly in need of major reforms, which could only be achieved with the South Korean candidate’s leadership with real, hands-on experience in the field.
Regardless, other members of the group invested their believe in Mrs Okonjo-Iweala, because of her vast experience, as a renowned global finance expert, an economist and international development professional with wide experience working in Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America and North America for over the last 30 years.
With a 25-year career at the World Bank as a development economist, rising to the position of managing director (operations), Mrs Okonjo-Iweala, apart from being an established reformer, who, as Nigeria’s Finance Minister led various reforms of the country’s economy, particularly on macroeconomic, trade, financial and real sector issues.
She spearheaded several World Bank initiatives to assist low-income countries during the 2008-2009 food crisis and later in the trying period of the global financial crisis.