Nigeria: Okonjo-Iweala Gets to Final Stage in Race for WTO DG

AfDB
Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
8 October 2020

Nigeria's candidate for the position of the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has been selected as one of the two female candidates to proceed to the final stage in the race to lead the Geneva-based global trade body.

Bloomberg quoted sources at Geneva that are familiar with the matter to have named the second candidate is South Korea's Ms. Yoo Myung-hee.

With this development, history is set to be made as WTO is expected to have its first female director-general in its 25-year history.

WTO's General Council Chairman, Mr. David Walker, is expected to formally announce the results to the institution's delegates in Geneva this morning.

The United Kingdom's Liam Fox, Kenya's Amina Chawahir Mohamed Jibril, and Saudi Arabia's Mohammad Maziad Al-Tuwaijri did not secure enough support in the second round of consultations; Bloomberg quoted insiders familiar with the matter as saying.

The third and final phase of the consultation process would begin later this month and run until November 6, after which the WTO would name a consensus winner of the race.

Clouding the outlook for the selection process is the United States' presidential election holding on November 3.

The WTO makes decisions on a consensus basis, and a lack of American support for any of the finalists could mean delays in picking the new director-general.

If WTO members are unable to select a leader by consensus, a vote requiring a qualified majority could be held as a last resort, which would be an unprecedented development in the organisation.

The campaign to lead the WTO during the most turbulent period of its 25-year existence is playing out against the backdrop of the pandemic, a worldwide recession, the US-China battle for trade supremacy and the American election.

President Donald Trump had blasted the WTO as the worst trade deal in US history and had pledged to overhaul it to better suit the country's interests.

The vacancy for the top WTO job arose when Brazil's Roberto Azevedo decided to step down at the end of August, a year before his term was due to end.

WTO members view the race as an opportunity to reshape the organisation, whose mission of economic integration is under threat from protectionist policies around the globe. Without reform, it risks being sidelined during the biggest economic crisis in a century.

According to analysts, Okonjo-Iweala's high professional/personal qualities, international contacts and impeccable records as Nigeria's former Finance minister/Foreign Affairs minister and as former managing director of the World Bank, stand her high above the other contestant.

She is a renowned global finance expert, an economist and international development professional with over 30 years of experience, having worked in Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America, and North America.

She is presently the Chair of the Board of GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance. Since its creation in 2000, GAVI has immunised over 760 million children across the globe. She also sits on the boards of Standard Chartered Plc and Twitter Inc. She was recently appointed African Union Special Envoy to mobilise international financial support in the fight against COVID-19, as well as Envoy for the World Health Organisation's access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator.

The Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Ms. Kristalina Georgieva, recently appointed Okonjo-Iweala to serve as a member of her newly-established External Advisory Group.

In addition, Okonjo-Iweala served twice as Nigeria's Finance minister, from 2003-2006 and 2011-2015 and briefly as Nigeria's Foreign Affairs minister in 2006, the first woman to hold both positions.

She had a 25-year career at the World Bank as a development economist, rising to the number two position of Managing Director (Operations).

As Finance minister, Okonjo-Iweala steered Nigeria through the varying degree of reforms, particularly on macroeconomic, trade, financial and real sector issues.

As Managing Director (Operations) of the World Bank, her several portfolios included oversight responsibility for the World Bank's $81 billion operational portfolio in Africa, South Asia, Europe, and Central Asia.

Okonjo-Iweala spearheaded several World Bank initiatives to assist low-income countries during the 2008-2009 food crises and later in the trying period of the global financial crisis.

On the other hand, Yoo is South Korea's trade minister. During her 25-year career in government, she helped expand her country's trade network through bilateral accords with the US, China and the UK.

FG Lauds European Union Support

Meanwhile, the federal government has expressed its optimism that Okonjo-Iweala will emerge winner of the race.

The Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Chief Adeniyi Adebayo, while reacting to the European Union (EU) support for the candidature of Okonjo-Iweala affirmed that the former finance minister remains the most qualified candidate for the WTO role.

He welcomed the EU support for Okonjo-Iweala and said it signifies a high probability of her clinching the coveted position of director-general of the WTO.

With the latest support from EU, Adebayo said the federal government will do all that will be required to ensure Okonjo-Iweala, the candidate of choice of Africa, emerges as the next director-general of the WTO.

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