NIGERIA’S former finance minister Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has been named as the new director-general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) after winning the final selection round this morning with a landslide victory.
Dr Okonjo-Iweala, 66, has been involved in a two-horse race for the job alongside South Korea’s trade minister Yoo Myung-hee. At a final round of voting today, Dr Okonjo-Iweala emerged victorious, securing 104 votes from the 164 member countries of the WTO to be awarded the top job.
Yesterday, things swung decisively in Dr Okonjo-Iweala’s favour when the European Union’s (EU) 27 members agreed to support her candidacy. This was despite the fact that Ms Yoo received some diplomatic help from South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in, who personally called more than a dozen European leaders including German chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte to remind them how many jobs South Korea has created abroad.
South Korean officials were particularly keen to court nations like the Czech Republic, where Hyundai built a $1.2bn automobile factory in 2008. Likewise, the Koreans sought support from Slovakia, where the Kia Motors built a €1bn plant in 2006 but despite all this, the EU opted for Dr Okonjo-Iweala.
For some Europeans, supporting Dr Okonjo-Iweala could help advance the bloc’s goal of strengthening strategic ties with Africa. For others, her political clout, reform plans and connections as a veteran of the World Bank and as chair of the Gavi Vaccine Alliance helped tip the scales in favour as the WTO needs to be mended after a series of bitter rows and divisions.
Dr Okonjo-Iweala served as Nigeria’s first female finance and foreign minister and has a 25-year career behind her as a development economist at the World Bank, eventually becoming its number two. She is also on Twitter’s board of directors and is a special envoy for the World Health Organisation’s fight against Covid-19.
Originally, there were seven candidates running for the WTO job but the shortlist was then narrowed down to five before a final two were selected. This morning, WTO delegates voted on which of the two to appoint and Dr Okonjo-Iweala appeared to sweep the vote.