WTO DG: Okonjo-Iweala gets the backing of 79 countries so far

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Nigeria’s candidate for the vacant World Trade Organization (WTO) Director-General post, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has expressed confidence in her quest to lead the crisis-ridden global trade organization after all of Africa backed her candidacy, vowing she would champion reform.

This disclosure was made by Nigeria’s former Finance Minister at a virtual press briefing on Friday, October 17, 2020, after 55-member African Union officially supported her over the sole remaining opponent, Yoo Myung-hee of South Korea.

Okonjo-Iweala during the virtual press briefing said, “I feel the wind behind my back,”

She said she was thrilled to learn that all African countries are supporting her. According to her, this is in addition to a group of Caribbean and Pacific countries, who had promised to back her, bringing the number of countries officially endorsing her candidacy to 79 out of the 164 countries that comprise the WTO.

She was also optimistic of support from Latin American and felt she has gotten very good traction and good support in Asia so far.

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She said the European Union was meanwhile due to announce its preference soon and feels quite confident that across the regions, they will be able to attract support.

The global trade body is set to be led by a woman for the first time whichever of the two candidates is successful in their bid to succeed Roberto Azevedo, who stepped down as WTO director-general in August a year ahead of schedule.

Okonjo-Iweala, 66, who served as Nigeria’s first female finance and foreign minister and has a 25-year career behind her as a development economist at the World Bank, said it would be good if WTO could also boast its first African leader.


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She said, “If that person is African and a woman, I think that is great. Because… neither an African nor a woman has led the organization.’’

The WTO at this time with the challenges it confronts needs a very competent Director General who is able to have the political reach and stature to be able to do reforms and deal at very high levels. It is not only having those skills, but having them all meet in one person at this juncture when the WTO needs that.

The WTO was already grappling with stalled trade talks and struggling to manage tensions including trade disputes between the United States and China, even before the outbreak of coronavirus pandemic.

The global trade body has also faced relentless attacks from the United States, which has crippled the WTO dispute settlement appeal system and threatened to leave the organization altogether.

Okonjo-Iweala said she had broad experience in championing reform and was the right person to help put the WTO back on track.

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She said, “I am a reform candidate and I think the WTO needs the reform credentials and skills now.

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It can be recalled that the initial pool of 8 candidates for the WTO’s top post, which has been reduced after 2 rounds of elimination processes, had included 3 Africans, and the AU had until now refrained from offering an official endorsement.

The third and final round of consultations seeking to establish consensus around one candidate is due to begin next week and end on October 27, with the announcement due in early November.



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