By Randy Gordon, president and CEO
The World Trade Organization (WTO) on Oct. 8 announced that the two finalists to become its seventh director-general are both women – Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria and Yoo Myung-hee of South Korea.
Yoo, South Korea’s current trade minister, has spent most of her 25-year career working on trade issues, including negotiations with the United States. She was the country’s chief negotiator during talks that updated the Korea-U.S. (KORUS) free trade agreement, as well as the Korea-China free trade agreement. She touts herself as being a skillful negotiator and conciliator, and a strong proponent of the multilateral trade system. She received her undergraduate degree in public policy from Seoul National University in Korea, and a law degree from Vanderbilt University.
Meanwhile, Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s former minister of finance (she served two terms from 2003-06 and 2011-15), economy and foreign affairs, is best known from her experience as the World Bank’s managing director from 2007-11, during a 25-year career as a development economist at the bank. She also served as Nigeria’s foreign minister in 2006. She is touted as being a global financial expert, economist and international development professional with more than 30 years’ experience working in Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America and North America. She currently serves as chairman of the Board of Directors for Gavi, a vaccine alliance. She also recently was appointed as the African Union’s special envoy to mobilize international financial support for its fight against COVID-19. She was graduated magna cum laude with an undergraduate degree in economics from Harvard University and received a doctorate in regional economics and development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The winner will be selected during the third and final round of consultations with WTO’s 164 member countries, with an announcement scheduled on or before Nov. 7. The finalist will succeed former WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo, a career diplomat from Brazil who had served since May 2013 but left the WTO post on Aug. 31 – a year early – to become executive vice president and director of corporate affairs at Pepsico.
If selected, Okonjo-Iweala would become the first WTO director general from Africa. If Yoo wins, she would be the first Asian-Pacific director general since former Australian Prime Minister Mike Moore and former Thailand Deputy Prime Minister Supachai Panitchpakdi, each of whom served three years back-to-back in the job in a compromise decision. The two candidates were chosen from a field of five that had advanced to the second round of consultations, and who included Amina C. Mohamed, Kenya’s former foreign affairs and international trade minister; Mohammad Maziad Al-Tuwaijri, Saudia Arabia’s former minister of economy and planning; and Liam Fox, former trade secretary for the United Kingdom.
The final selection consultation process is scheduled to occur between Oct. 19-27. During this period, WTO member countries will be asked during confidential consultations to express their choice. A WTO General Council meeting then will be conducted to make the final consensus choice.
WTO Deputy Director General Calls on Members to Create “Useful Forum” to Institute Structural Reforms: Meanwhile, WTO Deputy Director General Alan Wolff has called on member countries to create what he termed a “useful forum” to develop and implement structural reforms for the struggling organization. In opening remarks at a plenary session during Geneva Trade Week, Wolff echoed calls for improving, rather than dismantling, the WTO. He said progress can be “incremental or it can be more comprehensive, more systemic….The next step cannot be deferred.”
A statement outlining pledges to support WTO reform is scheduled to be submitted to G-20 trade and investment ministers on Nov. 21-22 during a summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The document states, “The 12th WTO Ministerial Conference represents an important milestone in an inclusive and ambitious process of WTO reform.” Prior to the next WTO ministerial meeting, the G-20 trade ministers say they are committing “to bolster our efforts to work constructively with other WTO members to achieve meaningful progress in advancing our shared interests, including emerging stronger from the COVID-19 pandemic and progressing with the necessary reform of the WTO to improve its functioning.”
The G-20 is comprised of seven countries constituting the largest developed economies – namely, the United States, Japan, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, Canada, as well as the European Union – plus Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea and Turkey.