Emma Emeozor with Agency report
Former Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, 66, will be slugging it out with five other candidates in a speeded-up contest to replace the outgoing World Trade Organisation (WTO) Director-General Roberto Azevedo, who is stepping down one year early at the end of August, as window to enter the race formally closed yesterday.
The five candidates include South Korean Trade Minister, Yoo Myung-hee; Kenya’s former Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed; Mexico’s former WTO deputy Director-Deneral Jesus Seade Kuri; Egyptian former diplomat, Hamid Mamdouh; and former Moldovan Foreign Minister, Tudor Ulianovschi.
There has never been a WTO leader from Africa and the continent fancies its chances this time, even though there is no regional rotation principle at the global trade body. However, African nations have so far failed to convene around a single candidate. While expecting the contest to come in 2021, the African Union had given early official backing to three figures including Mamdouh, a veteran former senior WTO official. Mamdouh, 67, who is also a Swiss national, was the only one to declare his candidacy.
But Nigeria’s decision to stand Okonjo-Iweala against him has triggered a legal dispute with the African Union.
Nonetheless, Okonjo-Iweala, who chairs the board of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, said she was receiving “tremendous support” especially within Africa. Rather than an election, the procedure for selecting the next WTO boss relies on finding consensus, with candidates gradually being eliminated in turn. A vote is possible as a measure of last resort, but that scenario has never occurred. In 1999, when countries could not decide between two runners, both candidates each served a three-year term.
Of the directors-general since the WTO was created in 1995, three were from Europe, while one each came from Oceania, Asia and South America. But whoever emerges the new chief must revive stalled trade talks, lay groundwork for the 2021 ministerial conference, one of the WTO’s major events and thaw relations with Washington DC. The next incumbent also faces a tough task, with the WTO caught in the middle of rising tensions between the United States and China.
The United States, which has threatened to leave the WTO, had blocked the organisation’s dispute settlement appeal system since December, and as it presses for China to be moved up from the developing economies category.