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Nigeria's Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala proposed as new chief of WTO

Xinhua | Updated: 2020-10-29 09:26

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala poses outside a Nigerian diplomatic residence in Chambesy, near Geneva, Switzerland, Sept 29, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

GENEVA - Nigeria's former finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is proposed to become the new director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO), a WTO official announced on Wednesday.

WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell told a media briefing that a key group of three WTO ambassadors, the so-called "troika", proposed Okonjo-Iweala as the new head of the Geneva-based organization in a closed-door meeting, assessing that the candidate "had the best chance of attaining the consensus of the membership".

However, "one delegation could not support the candidacy of Dr. Ngozi and said they would continue to support South Korean minister Yoo. That delegation was the United States of America," Rockwell said.

The "troika" consists of the chairs of three major WTO committees -- the General Council (GC), the Dispute Settlement Body (DSB), and the Trade Policy Review Body (TPRB). They put forward a shortlist after every round of consultations with WTO members until the third and final one, which ran from Oct 19 to Oct 27.

Since early October, Okonjo-Iweala had been facing off against the other female candidate, South Korea's Minister for Trade Yoo Myung-hee, in the final round of race to become the new director-general of WTO.

Okonjo-Iweala's candidacy will be put for endorsement at a WTO General Council meeting on Nov 9.

However, trade experts warned that the final decision is still up in the air.

"The very recent news that the United States will back the South Korean candidate is a very interesting development to watch. So this issue may not have been as settled as we thought," Simon Evenett, professor of international trade and economic development at the University of St. Gallen, told Xinhua.

"I do not want to over-emphasize the US development, because the US development could just be putting down a bargaining mark, but still, don't be surprised if we are surprised."

If selected, Okonjo-Iweala would become the first woman and African to head the global trade watchdog in its 25-year history.

The WTO's leadership vacuum was created after its former chief Roberto Azevedo stepped down on Aug 31, a year before the end of his official term. The organization is currently being steered by four deputies.

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