GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Last week the World Trade Organization (WTO) narrowed the election field for a new director general (DG) down from eight to two candidates: Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria, and Yoo Myung-hee of Korea. Despite a lack of final results, history has already been made—for the first time in the 25-year existence of the WTO, a woman will sit at the helm.
The two remaining candidates are widely seen as highly qualified with extensive experience in both the trade and political fields. Yoo Myung-hee is Korea’s current trade minister and has the full support of the Korean government, including President Moon Jae-in. She has a strong trade background, having worked on deals with the U.S., China, and the European Union, and has lived abroad, including in the U.S. She has unique experience as a longtime trade expert and sharp political acumen gained from serving as trade minister. If selected, she would be the second Asian DG and the first from Korea.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is the former managing director of operations at the World Bank and a former Nigerian finance minister. She is well known as an economic reformer, has impressed WTO members with her political wit, and is well-liked by officials in many capitals. Her political weight upon entering the race was perhaps the highest amongst all eight original candidates and she is likely to secure the support of nearly all African delegations. Okonjo-Iweala would be the first DG from Africa.
“Leadership at the WTO is important for U.S. agriculture, and especially rice, as we continue our efforts to level the playing field globally,” said USA Rice president and CEO Betsy Ward. “We are excited by the history made by either of these highly-qualified candidates, and hopeful that whomever is selected will lead the WTO efficiently, effectively, and fairly. It is also notable that both of these women hail from countries that understand the complexity and importance of rice trade.”
The WTO’s DG selection committee reconvened on October 9 and runs until October 27 to afford members sufficient time to prepare their positions and make their final selection.