US Trade Representative, Robert Lighthizer, while giving reasons for opposing Okonjo-Iweala, who gained American citizenship in 2019, said WTO needs “someone with real, hands-on experience in the field”.
The United States opposed Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the consensus candidate to lead the WTO.
It has now been revealed that the US said it is supporting South Korean trade minister, Yoo Myung-hee, to become the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation because she is a “trade expert”.
This was contained in a statement issued by the office of the US trade representative.
“The United States supports the selection of Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee as the next WTO Director-General,” the USTR, led by Lighthizer, said.
“Minister Yoo is a bona fide trade expert who has distinguished herself during a 25-year career as a successful trade negotiator and trade policy maker. She has all the skills necessary to be an effective leader of the organization.
“This is a very difficult time for the WTO and international trade. There have been no multilateral tariff negotiations in 25 years, the dispute settlement system has gotten out of control, and too few members fulfill basic transparency obligations.
“The WTO is badly in need of major reform. It must be led by someone with real, hands-on experience in the field.”
However, Okonjo-Iweala, while addressing the WTO in July, had explained that she is a trade expert.
She said: “I am a development economist and you cannot do that without looking at trade. Trade is a central part of development. So, I have been doing it. My whole career at the World Bank, I was working on trade policy reform in middle and low-income countries at the bank.
“As finance minister, the customs service in my country reported to me. And that is all about trade facilitation. I helped my country’s negotiation with my trade minister on the ECOWAS common external tariffs. I don’t know how much more trade you can have than that.
“So those who say I don’t have trade, they are mistaken. I think the qualities I have are even better, because I combine development economics with trade knowledge, along with finance, and you need those combinations of skills to lead the WTO. I think I have the skills that are needed. I am a trade person.”
Okonjo-Iweala, who also serves on Twitter’s board of directors, as chair of the GAVI vaccine alliance and as a special envoy for the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 fight, saw her candidacy get another boost this week when the EU threw its weight behind her.
If she eventually gets a majority backing, she would be the first woman and the first African to lead the global trade body in its 25-year history.