European Union backs Nigerian candidate for WTO leadership

Clay Curtis
October 28, 2020

The World Trade Organisation will announce its new director general next month, but sources said the European Union will publicly announce its support for the 66-year-old economist on Tuesday.

A key group of World Trade Organisation (WTO) ambassadors has proposed Nigerian Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to lead the organisation, trade sources told Reuters News Agency on Wednesday, clearing a path for her to become the first woman and African to head the global watchdog in its 25-year history.

President Moon Jae-in had phone talks with Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday mainly as part of efforts to broaden global support for South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee's candidacy to lead the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The recommendation of Okonjo-Iweala was made by three WTO ambassadors, the so-called "troika", after consulting with members in a series of closed-door meetings in Geneva as part of an intricate and opaque process that some have compared to a papal succession.

The WTO's decision-making process is based on consensus, and either candidate will need to win the blessing of all 164 members.

The opposition is reminiscent of the skepticism by President Donald Trump's administration toward the World Health Organization, which is led by Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, a former Ethiopian foreign minister.

Once officially announced, Okonjo-Iweala will be the first African and first female director-general of the worldwide body in its 25-year history.

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Okonjo-Iweala was Nigeria's first female finance minister and has long career at the World Bank as a development economist.

The organisation has set a meeting to settle the matter for November 9, 2020 less than a week after the U.S presidential election.

Tokyo had been wary of Okonjo-Iweala's rival candidate, fearing that a Yoo-led WTO may rule in favor of South Korea in its many trade disputes with Japan.

Washington has already paralysed the WTO's role as global arbiter on trade by blocking appointments to its appeals panel.

The new boss of the WTO will be tasked with overseeing much needed reforms, steer the trading world through a post-COVID recession, clinch multilateral deals, manage rising protectionism and navigate the trade war between China and the United States.

Predecessor Roberto Azevedo, a Brazilian, stepped down with a year left in his term as WTO reforms stalled.

Now chair of the of GAVI vaccine alliance board, Okonjo-Iweala has also said the WTO should play a role in helping poorer countries access COVID-19 drugs and vaccines.

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