Exclusive! WTO DG: Anxiety As S’Korea’s Foreign Minister Visits Addis Ababa, Lobbies AU, Ethiopia

  • Okonjo-Iweala Certain of 79 Countries Firm Support As EU, US   Hit Deadlock  
  • Japan, China, US, South East Asia  Align Priorities Along S’Korea’s Myung-hee.
As the date for the final  time-frame of October 27, for the  determination of which candidate would lead  the WTO draws closer, both  Nigeria and South Korea, the two countries’ candidates in the final race for the top job, have escalated intensive lobbies and high-level diplomatic shuttles.

South Korea’s Deputy  Minister of Foreign Affairs  responsible for Multilateral and Global matters , Ham Sang Wook was on a diplomatic shuttle to Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital on Monday and Tuesday this week.

The main goal, as gathered was to  discuss  wide-ranging issues with high-level officials of the Ethiopian ministry of foreign Affairs, the African Union(AU)  and the World Health Organization’s (WHO) regional office in Addis Ababa.

The New Diplomat’s checks reveal that during  Ham’s visit , he  used the occasion to celebrate South Korea’s donation of medical supplies and other medical capabilities worth  about  US$5 million   “to aid  Ethiopia overcome her  major health challenges,  including the dreaded  COVID-19 pandemic and a comprehensive rapid response programme.”.

Agency reports monitored by The New Diplomat indicate that South Korea ‘’has been implementing this program for key partners including Ethiopia, WHO and the Africa Centres for Disease Control in order to aid the international community’s response to COVID-19’’ over a reasonable period of time.

Checks reveal that the Deputy Foreign Minister also discussed other bi-lateral and multi-lateral  subject matters such as South Korea’s preparations and  state of readiness  for the United Nations Peacekeeping Ministerial  sessions to be hosted by the government  of South Korea in April next year.

It is not clear if the race for the DG of WTO which South Korea’s serving Trade Minister,  Yoo Myung-hee is contesting along with Nigeria’s former Finance Minister, Dr Nozi Okonjo-Iweala was the main focus of the visit.

It could also not be authoritatively established if the deputy foreign Minister openly  canvassed  support  for Yoo  Myung-hee   at these high-level bi-lateral and multi-lateral meetings which took place in Addis Ababa  on Monday and Tuesday, two consecutive days.

However, a senior diplomat who is very familiar with how these diplomatic  dynamics function said there ” is no way the race for WTO DG would not have been discussed by the South Korea’s deputy foreign affairs minister as it is part of the strategic lobbying processes.’’

According to him, the timing of South Korea’s medical donation and support capabilities to Ethiopia  is not accidental.” These meetings don’t happen by accident. They are well scheduled and the timing of these meetings are very strategic. I can assure that there is no way the race for WTO DG wouldn’t be on the agenda of these two day meetings…”, he added.

Sources reveal that this development has created some anxiety among some  diplomats within the African Union who are concerned that the meetings may have been primed to elicit Ethiopia’s support for South Korea.

Ethiopia is a strategic player not just within the AU but also among global stakeholders because of her  prime position as host of many multi-lateral and bi-lateral international institutions, including  many UN agencies.

Recall that the  World Trade Organization (WTO)’s General Council, the overall organ  responsible for picking the organization’s  next DG , has  been assailed with preferences and choices from WTO member  nations since Monday this week.
The WTO General Council led by Ambassador Walker  would then proceed  to  determine the fate of   Nigeria’s former Finance Minister, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and South Korea’s  serving Trade Minister, Yoo Myung-hee on October 27, when it  officially closes the secretariat to nominations.
Recall also that indications that influential global trading countries including the United States(US), the European Union(EU) nations, China, Japan and the BRICS countries are strongly divided on who should be the candidate to lead the WTO have also triggered concern in key quarters.


As earlier reported by The New Diplomat  while  the EU nations are said to be strongly supportive of Okonjo-Iweala, the United States, Japan and China think differently. This follows the decision of the EU parliament which met on Wednesday and mandated the EU nations to back Nigeria’s Okonjo-Iweala as  she is best placed, and has the best vision to lead the WTO at this point.

However as reported by our correspondent,  the United States on the other hand is strongly supporting South Korea’s Yoo Mung-hee. It is not clear why the United States is backing Mung-hee as the The New Diplomat could not ascertain the exact reasons as at press time.

The influence of the United States on global trade is reportedly huge given that it single-handedly  controls about 12% of  global trade just as China holds about 12.4% of the global trade statistics. It is  also not totally  clear what  are the exact dynamics currently shaping China’s position but some insiders in Geneva hint that the biggest economy in the world in terms of P3(Purchasing Power Parity) may have opted to support its East Asia sister country’s Trade Minister, South Korea’s Myung-hee.

Diplomatic  sources  had hinted  that East Asia countries including China, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macay, Mongolia  and South Korea may have  taken a political decision to align collectively in support of South Korea’s  candidate, Mung-hee.

Going by statistics, Japan, a key US ally is another strong international player in global trade with an estimated $705.7 billion worth of goods globally in 2020.

With a split or disagreement between the US and EU, a deadlock is not impossible at the end, going by current protocols and dynamics, said a diplomat in Geneva.

As previously reported, the senior diplomat told The New Diplomat: “ It is a tough race. There might be a deadlock …  With EU’s decision to firmly support Nigeria’s Okonjo-Iweala and the US firmly supporting Mung-hee, there is  already a big split which could lead to a deadlock. These are very influential players in the global game. EU has huge influence. US equally has huge influence. Traditionally, they always align and move in the same direction but on this matter, it is strange that both the US and the EU are not together.”

The  top diplomat explained further that China and Japan could however tilt the balance of play in the final analysis. The New Diplomat’s Europe’s outpost gathered that Japan has finally decided on Tuesday to back South Korea’s Myung-hee after what a senior diplomat described as a “ very rigorous and tortuous  negotiation which went on for days.”

However, on Okonjo-Iweala’s side apart from the support of the EU are 55 AU nations as well as 24 solid ACP countries. Some of the ACP designated countries backing her include the 55 African Union countries such as Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana, etc, and the CP countries which include Bahamas, Cuba, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Dominica Republic, Dominica, Greneda, Fiji, Cook Islands, Solomon Islands, Timor-Lester, Parpua New Guinea,  etc. A combination of this preponderance form about 79 block countries that are solidly behind Nigeria’s Okonjo-Iweala.

However, another diplomatic source had revealed that the BRICS states may also have  a card up their sleeves. Together, the BRICS  countries  effectively control about 18% of the global trade, a development which makes them very influential players at the WTO.

The BRICS states may however not act as a group  in this dynamics because they are equally split along regional bloc, said one diplomat in Geneva. The BRICS states are Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Recall that China is already moving in the direction of South East Asia countries who may have take a political decision to support South Korea’s Myung-hee.

Africa’s global trade is about  3%, a development which makes the continent not having the  requisite commanding influence at the WTO. But should Nigeria’s Okonjo-Iweala sails through, and emerges as the next DG of WTO, things might change positively for Africa.

According to another diplomat, “ the desire for Africa to change the narrative should be a guiding point for all Africans to back Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. As she has the credentials and capacity to lead the WTO at this point.”

Okonjo-Iweala, 66, served as Nigeria’s first female finance minister. She was later moved to lead the foreign ministry as minister, and has a 25-year career behind her as a development economist at the World Bank, eventually becoming its number two. She is also on Twitter’s board of directors and is a special envoy for the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 fight. She is well educated with specialist  degrees in development economics and international finance. If she emerges triumphant from the final elimination round, she would not only be the first woman, but also the first African to lead the global trade body.

Myung-hee, 53, on her part, is currently serving as South Korea’s first female trade minister, following a long  and distinguished career in trade, diplomacy, law and foreign affairs. She has  previously served as South Korea’s foreign Affairs minister, among other strategic positions which she has been variously called upon to lead.  Experts say Myung-hee is well respected  not only in South Korea but also in East Asia where she has made a mark as the first woman to hold some key positions in her country. A lawyer and diplomat, Myung-hee holds degrees in Law, Public Policy and was called to the New York Bar.


Subscribe to Our VIP Newsletter