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Meet Okonjo-Iweala, Myung-Hee vying for WTO top job

On Thursday, the World Trade Organisation announced Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and South Korea’s Yoo Myung-hee as the top two candidates for the position of its Director-General.

PREMIUM TIMES reported Wednesday that the organisation selected two final candidates to advance to the final round in the race to lead the Geneva-based trade body.

“From 24 September to 6 October, WTO members expressed preferences on five remaining candidates during consultations with Amb. Walker, Amb. Dacio Castillo of Honduras and Amb. Harald Aspelund of Iceland,” the trade body said in a statement Thursday.

“Based on the depth and breadth of preferences articulated to the facilitators, Amb. Walker told a Heads of Delegation meeting on 8 October that the two candidates who secured the broadest and deepest support from the membership and who should subsequently advance to the final round are Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria and Yoo Myung-hee of the Republic of Korea.”

The third phase of consultations will commence on 19 October and run until 27 October to afford members sufficient time to prepare their positions.

PREMIUM TIMES brings you profiles of the two leading candidates.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala – (Nigeria)

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is a global finance expert, an economist, and international development professional.

With over 30 years of experience, she has worked in Asia, Africa, Europe, and Latin America.

Mrs Okonjo-Iweala is Chair of the Board of Gavi, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, which, since its creation in 2000, has immunised 680 million children globally and saved ten million lives.

She is also a Senior Adviser at Lazard and sits on the Boards of Standard Chartered PLC and Twitter Inc.

Mrs Okonjo-Iweala served twice as Nigeria’s Finance Minister, from 2003-2006, and later between 2011 and 2015. She also served briefly as Foreign Minister in 2006.

She spent a 25-year career at the World Bank as a development economist, rising to the No. 2 position of Managing Director, Operations. She is renowned as the first female and black candidate to contest for the presidency of the World Bank Group in 2012, backed by Africa and major developing countries.

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As Managing Director of the World Bank, she had oversight responsibility for the World Bank’s $81 billion operational portfolios in Africa, South Asia, Europe, and Central Asia and spearheaded several World Bank initiatives to assist low-income countries during the 2008-2009 food crisis and later during the financial crisis.

In 2010, she was Chair of the World Bank’s successful drive to raise $49.3 billion in grants and low interest credit for the poorest countries in the world.

In 2005, as Minister of Finance in Nigeria, she spearheaded negotiations with the Paris Club of Creditors that led to the wiping out of $30 billion of Nigeria’s debt, including the outright cancellation of $18 billion.

In her second term as Finance Minister, Dr Okonjo-Iweala was responsible for leading reform that enhanced transparency of government accounts and strengthened institutions against corruption, including the implementation of the GIFMS (Government Integrated Financial Management System), the IPPMS (Integrated Personnel and Payroll Management System), and the TSA (Treasury Single Accounts).

Mrs Okonjo-Iweala has been listed as one of Transparency International’s 8 Female Anti-Corruption Fighters Who Inspire (2019), one of the 50 Greatest World Leaders (Fortune, 2015), the Top 100 Most Influential People in the World (TIME, 2014), the Top 100 Global Thinkers (Foreign Policy, 2011 and 2012), the Top 100 Most Powerful Women in the World (Forbes, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014), the Top 3 Most Powerful Women in Africa (Forbes, 2012), the Top 10 Most Influential Women in Africa (Forbes, 2011), the Top 100 Women in the World (The UK Guardian, 2011), the Top 150 Women in the World (Newsweek, 2011), and the Top 100 most inspiring people in the World Delivering for Girls and Women (Women Deliver, 2011).

She has also been listed among 73 “brilliant” business influencers in the world by Condé Nast International, among other awards.

Mrs Okonjo-Iweala is currently also Chair of the Board of the African Union’s African Risk Capacity (ARC), an innovative weather-based insurance mechanism for African countries; and co-Chair of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate with Lord Nicholas Stern and Mr Paul Polman. She is also Chair of the Board of the Nelson Mandela Institution, an umbrella body for the African Institutes of Science and Technology, and Chair of the Board of the African University of Science and Technology, Abuja. Dr Okonjo-Iweala is a trustee of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

She is the founder of Nigeria’s first ever indigenous opinion-research organization, NOI-Polls. She also founded the Center for the Study of Economies of Africa (C-SEA), a development research think tank based in Abuja, Nigeria.

Mrs Okonjo-Iweala graduated magna cum laude with an A.B. in Economics from Harvard University (1976), and earned a Ph.D. in Regional Economics and Development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT, 1981). She has received honorary degrees from 15 universities worldwide, including some from the most prestigious colleges: Yale University, the University of Pennsylvania, Brown University, Trinity College (University of Dublin), Amherst College, Colby College, Tel Aviv University, and Northern Caribbean University, Jamaica.

She also has honorary doctorate degrees from a host of Nigerian universities including Abia State University, Delta State University, Oduduwa University, Babcock University, among others.

She is the author of numerous articles and several books, including Fighting Corruption is Dangerous: The Story Behind the Headlines (MIT Press, 2018), Reforming the UnReformable: Lessons from Nigeria, (MIT Press, 2012), and Mobilizing Finance for Education in the Commonwealth (Commonwealth Education Report 2019).

She is married to Ikemba Iweala, a neurosurgeon, and they have four children and three grandchildren.

Yoo Myung-Hee (South Korea)

Yoo is the first female Trade Minister for the Republic of Korea. She has been an innovator, negotiator, strategist, and pioneer in her 25-year career in trade, devoting her career to progress in the multilateral trade arena.

In her early days in 1995, she took charge of WTO affairs in the Korean Ministry of Trade Industry and Energy, and later as Korea’s key FTA strategist and, recently, negotiator of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the Korea-China FTA and the critical Korea-U.S. (KORUS) FTA renegotiation, among other trade initiatives.

Minister Yoo’s belief in the importance of the multilateral system and its constant renewal derives from Korea’s position as a major beneficiary of the open trading system represented by the GATT and WTO. Her life in Korea has been defined by Korea’s increasing prosperity and growth in the multilateral trading world. She personally knows that development can happen in this framework and has first-hand experience in how to effectuate mutually beneficial change and development.

She has worked with countries spanning all levels of development, in various WTO and FTA negotiation settings as well as through her work experience in the APEC Secretariat (2010 to 2014) and the Korean Embassy in China (2007 to 2010).

Minister Yoo is a strategist, laying out long-term visions to be followed, and at the same time when faced with unexpected hurdles, able to proactively develop and pursue practical deliverables that are meaningful under the circumstances.

She received her M.A. in Public Policy from Seoul National University in Korea and her Juris Doctorate from Vanderbilt University Law School in the U.S., and was admitted to the New York State Bar in May 2003.

She is married with two children.



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