Emma Emeozor, Uche Usim, (Abuja), Laide Raheem, (Abeokuta), Chinwendu Obienyi
A key group of WTO ambassadors yesterday, proposed former Nigerian Finance Minister, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to lead the World Trade Organisation, clearing a path for her to become the first woman and African to head the global watchdog in its 25-year history.
The decision, yet to be finalised, caps a more than four-month selection process involving intense lobbying which saw her square up against South Korean trade minister Yoo Myung-hee, in the final round, trade sources told Reuters yesterday.
The recommendation of Nigeria’s former finance minister 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 secretive process that some have compared to a papal succession.
The troika, led by New Zealand’s Ambassador David Walker, is due to make the formal recommendation to a closed-door meeting of heads of delegations at 3 p.m. (1400 GMT).
It still needs to be approved by consensus at a meeting of the WTO’s 164 members.
However several members including China and the United States declined to name their preference publicly after some African, Caribbean and other states have voiced support for Okonjo-Iweala.
Earlier, the European Union had endorsed Okonjo-Iweala on October 26.
However, three sources following the contest said that Washington had privately indicated a preference for
Yoo, although it is unknown whether it would block Ngozi.
The leadership void was created after outgoing WTO chief Roberto Azevedo, from Brazil, stepped down a year early in August with the body currently being steered by four deputies.
Notwithstanding her clear chances, Okonjo-Iweala, a 66-year-old former World Bank managing director, will face considerable challenges with rival economies’ bickering amid rising tensions and protectionism during a coronavirus-induced trade plunge.
This is because as at press time yesterday, reports said WTO’s effort to name a new leader hit a new roadblock after the Trump administration said it won’t back her appointment as next director-general.
“The U.S. could not support a consensus decision to appoint Okonjo-Iweala,” Deputy United States Trade Representative Dennis Shea said during a meeting of WTO delegates in Geneva, according to three officials who were monitoring the proceedings, Bloomberg said. All WTO decisions are taken by a consensus of its 164 members, which means the U.S. move will act as a veto that disrupts the process.
A WTO official said work would continue to reach a consensus ahead of meeting of the General Council tentatively set for November 9. The development came after Okonjo-Iweala had received the key endorsement from the WTO selection committee, which moved her a step closer to becoming the WTO’s first female director-general..
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has pushed for South Korea’s candidate, Yoo Myung-hee, even though Okonjo-Iweala gained U.S. citizenship in 2019.
Sources close to Lighthizer said he views Okonjo-Iweala as being too close to pro-trade internationalists in Washington like Robert Zoellick, a former USTR who worked with Okonjo-Iweala when he was president of the World Bank.
Meanwhile Okonjo-Iweala’s Nigerian compatriots have continued to expressed hope in her ability to win the plum job
Responding to an earlier ews of her victory, the Vice-Presidential Candidate of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, in the 2019 elections, Mr. Peter Obi, eulogised Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, describing her as shining star who will turn around the fortunes of global trade
In a congratulatory message made available to the Press, Obi, who had earlier drummed up support for Okonjo-Iweala’s candidacy, expressed delight at her emergence, saying she had always been known to shine brilliantly wherever she found herself. Obi said he has high confidence that Okonjo-Iweala has the ability to draw from her skills and wide experience from the economic and financial sectors to lead the WTO to greater heights.
Obi prayed God to give Okonjo-Iweala the wisdom to deliver on her new mandate: “
Similarly, Governor Dapo Abiodun of Ogun State has congratulated the two-time Finance Minister of Nigeria, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo – Iweala on her victory as the Director General, World Trade Organization (WTO). Abiodun, in a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Kunle Somorin, on Wednesday, said Okonjo-Iweala’s victory as the first African woman to win the global international organisation position came as a result of her hard work, resilience and dedication to duty.
Also responding, the National Chairman of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Prince Uche Secondus welcomed the rumoured emergence of Nigeria’s former Finance Minister, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the first female and African Director General of the World Trade Organisation, WTO.
For his part, President General of Ndigbo apex socio-political and cultural organisation, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief John Nnia Nwodo, lauded Nigeria’s former Finance Minister, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, saying her emergence as the Director General of the World Trade Organisation, would represent a reward for excellence which she has always demonstrated. Nwodo said in a statement he signed that the victory was uplifting as it came at the right time when Nigerians were going through difficult times.
“A Nigerian daughter emerging to lead such high global body at this time gives hope that the future is right if square pegs are put in square holes in the leadership in this country.
Nwodo said that as the first female and African to occupy the exalted position, Dr Okonjo-Iweala is making history which she rightly merits given her overwhelming credentials and track records locally and internationally.
The PG commended President Muhammadu Buhari for his unflinching support that made Dr Okonjo-Iweala’s victory possible.
The Ohanaeze leader also praised the unity of purpose of African leaders that made the victory easy and deserving.
While congratulating Dr Okonjo-Iweala, the Ohanaeze leader prayed God to grant her mercy and the wisdom needed for her to excel in the new position.