Nigeria’s Okonjo-Iweala will be the first woman to be appointed head of the WTO

Issued on: 15/02/2021 – 03:34

Geneva (AFP)

Nigerian Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is expected to be confirmed on Monday as the first woman and first African leader to join the beleaguered World Trade Organization, an almost paralyzed institution in dire need of a kick-start.

The WTO has convened a special general council meeting, at which the former Nigerian finance minister and veteran of the World Bank is expected to be officially elected as the new director general of the global trade organization.

US President Joe Biden supported her candidacy shortly after the only other candidate, South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee, withdrew.

“I look forward to completing the process,” Okonjo-Iweala said on February 6, after receiving support from the Biden administration.

The organization is also keen to complete the lengthy process as it has been leaderless since the resignation of Brazilian professional diplomat Roberto Azevedo last August, a year ahead of schedule.

The process of selecting one of eight candidates to succeed him should be completed by November, but the administration of former US President Donald Trump blocked the consensus to appoint Okonjo-Iweala.

– “Reform candidate” –

The 66-year-old will not be at the WTO’s Geneva headquarters in Geneva on Monday and it is not known when she will start work.

The special session of the 164-strong organization begins at 2 p.m. GMT and Okonjo-Iweala will hold an online press conference two hours later.

The WTO selects its leaders through consensus building. Despite being the only candidate left in the running – with support from the US, EU, and Africa – there’s always the chance a wrench to be thrown into work.

She will take over an organization that is in multiple crises and struggles to help member states cope with the severe global economic slump caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Okonjo-Iweala argued during the race that she was best placed among the eight candidates for the post to steer the WTO through the crisis.

“I’m a reform candidate,” she insisted.

She has warned, among other things, that growing protectionism and nationalism have been fueled by the pandemic, and insists that barriers need to be dismantled to help the world recover.

Even before Covid-19 hit the global economy, the WTO was weighed down by deadlocked trade talks and tried to ease trade tensions between the US and China.

The WTO has also faced relentless attacks from Washington under Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump. Among other things, Trump brought the WTO complaint system to a standstill at the end of 2019.

– ‘Boldness, Courage’ –

Okonjo-Iweala said her priorities are to bring long stalled trade talks over fisheries subsidies across the finish line and to breathe life into the WTO Appellate Body.

Okonjo-Iweala is Nigeria’s finance minister twice (2003-2006 and 2011-2015) and in 2006 she was her first foreign minister in a two-month stay. She is considered a pioneer in her West African homeland.

She has denied claims that her experience as a trade minister or negotiator is lacking and has insisted that running the WTO does not require technical skills but rather “boldness, courage”.

She has portrayed herself as an advocate of rampant corruption in Nigeria, claiming that her own mother was even kidnapped for trying to fight the Scourge.

But her critics argue she should have done more to tackle it in power.

Okonjo-Iweala is a development economist with degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard. He also had a 25-year career as a development economist with the World Bank, eventually becoming number two.

She is a member of the Twitter Board of Directors and Chair of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

Comments are closed.