A woman will lead WTO for the first time in history

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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For the first time in its 25-year history two women candidates have been shortlisted to the final round for WTO leadership

The World Trade Organization (WTO) is going to be headed by a woman for the first time in its 25-year history.

Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and South Korea’s Yoo Myung-hee have been shortlisted to the field of candidates competing to become the next WTO Director-General later this year, the Geneva-based body said in a statement.

One of them will replace Roberto Azevedo, who stepped down a year earlier than expected in August after the WTO was caught in the middle of an ongoing trade conflict between China and the United States.

In 1995, the WTO was formed with the goal of fostering free trade for the good of all. It negotiates and administers international trade laws and attempts, among its 164 members, to settle disputes.


Okonjo-Iweala is the former finance minister of Nigeria and an economist. She spent 25 years at the World Bank, rising to become the managing director of operations of the organization. She also chairs the board of directors of Gavi, an international organization aimed at bringing the public and private sectors together to increase access to vaccines.

“Happy to be in the final round of the WTO director general campaign. Thanks, WTO members for your continued support of my candidacy,” she tweeted

“The WTO needs a leader at this time. It needs a fresh look, a fresh face, an outsider, someone with the capability to implement reforms and to work with members to make sure the WTO comes out of the partial paralysis that it’s in,” Okonjo-Iweala said in an interview.

Okonjo-Iweala will face off against Yoo, the first woman to serve as Trade Minister of South Korea.

Yoo Myung-hee

“Deeply grateful and honored to be selected for the final round in the selection process of the next WTO Director General!” Yoo said on Twitter after the final candidates were announced.

In a video produced as part of her campaign for director general, Yoo described the WTO as “being at a crossroads.” She said that members would now work to rebuild trust and reform the global trading system.

“The global economy is under tremendous strain. This is precisely why the WTO is more important than ever,” she said.

Tough job ahead

The next WTO Director-General will take charge of an organization which has struggled to avoid conflicts of trade between Member States, especially the United States and China. She will also be forced to deal with the coronavirus pandemic fallout, which has slammed trade and sparked a profound global recession.

Much may depend upon the outcome of the November US presidential election also which is set to be held on November 3. President Donald Trump has consistently attacked and undermined the WTO’s mission by imposing tariffs on its allies, including Canada and Mexico and China, the second largest economy in the world and a US competitor. Even the recruitment of key staff to the WTO has been delayed by Trump, disrupting the functioning of the organization.