US attempting to block Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala's appointment to head WTO

Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

The US is blocking the appointment of Nigeria's ex-finance minister to lead the World Trade Organization (WTO) despite being backed by 164 members.

Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala had moved a step closer to becoming the first woman and the first African to be director of the global trade watchdog after securing the support of a key group of trade ambassadors in Geneva.

Sources said Okonjo-Iweala was backed by countries in the Caribbean, Africa, the European Union, China, Japan and Australia. However, US, critical of the WTO's handling of global trade, wants South Korea's Yoo Myung-hee, saying she could reform the body.

A statement issued by the US said: "Ms Yoo had "distinguished herself" as a trade expert and "has all the skills necessary to be an effective leader of the organisation."

It added: "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."

Sources close to the WTO said it was unclear whether Washington’s opposition to Okonjo-Iweala was a deliberate attempt to sabotage an organisation much criticised by Donald Trump.

A WTO spokesman said her candidacy would be put to a meeting of the body’s governing general council on 9 November, adding that there was likely to be “frenzied activity” in the meantime to secure consensus.

Ms Okonjo-Iweala, 66, served as her country's first female finance and foreign minister and has a 25-year career behind her as a development economist at the World Bank where she became managing director.

She also serves on Twitter's board of directors, as chair of the GAVI vaccine alliance and as a special envoy for the World Health Organisation's Covid-19 fight.