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Biden ends deadlock over first African and first woman to lead WTO

The Biden administration has ended the deadlock over the next head of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) by expressing its “strong support” for Nigeria’s ex-finance minister.

Nigerian former Foreign and Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala attends a press conference on July 15, 2020, in Geneva, following her hearing before World Trade Organization 164 member states' representatives

Former US president Donald Trump was a lone voice in opposing the appointment of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as head of the WTO. Photo: AFP

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was frontrunner for the role until the Trump administration last October said it wanted another woman, South Korea’s Yoo Myung-hee.

Yoo has now withdrawn her candidacy.

If confirmed in the role, Dr Okonjo-Iweala would be the first woman and the first African to lead the WTO.

Dr Okonjo-Iweala on Friday praised her rival for the post and said: “There is vital work ahead to do together.”

A WTO nominations committee in October recommended its 164 members appoint Dr Okonjo-Iweala as a replacement to outgoing chief Roberto Azevedo; a spokesman at the time said all had approved the appointment “except for one”.

President Donald Trump – who had described the WTO as “horrible” and biased towards China – wanted Yoo, South Korea’s trade minister.

Yoo said her decision to withdraw her candidacy was made in “close consultation” with the US. She said: “South Korea will actively contribute to reaching consensus for the next WTO chief and co-operate with her and participate in the WTO reform process.”

South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee attends a press conference following her hearing before 164 member states' representatives, as part of the application process to head the World Trade Organization (WTO) as Director General in Geneva on July 16, 2020. -

South Korea’s Yoo Myung-hee consulted with the US before withdrawing her candidacy, she says. Photo: AFP

The White House congratulated Yoo on her “strong campaign” for the position and for being a “traiblazer” as South Korea’s first female trade minister.

In a statement, it said the “US stands ready to engage in the next phase of the WTO process for reaching a consensus decision on the WTO director general”.


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