28 Oktober 2020 | Wirtschaft

Another boost for Africa’s WTO candidate

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala says she has broad experience in championing reform and is the right person to help put the WTO back on track.

I feel the wind behind my back. – Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Finance minister: Nigeria

Brussels - Nigerian finance ministrer Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has picked up crucial backing from the European Union, giving her bid to become the first African head of the WTO a major boost.

The World Trade Organisation will announce its new director general next month, but sources said the EU will publicly announce its support for the 66-year-old economist this week.

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

She has emerged as the favourite to replace Brazil's Roberto Azevedo at the WTO, and to become the first director general from Africa and the first woman to lead the institution.

There is no leading European candidate for the post this time round, but some of the 27 EU member states backed South Korea's trade minister Yoo Myung-hee, the other candidate still in the race.

A first meeting on Monday failed to find consensus around the choice, but member state representatives reconvened and agreed to back Okonjo-Iweala.

‘MUTUAL TRUST’

One European source said that seven member states had asked that their preference for Yoo be recorded in the statement, but another said backing Okonjo-Iweala was "a clear signal to Africa and a sign of mutual trust".

The WTO's consultation process ended yesterday and the new leader is expected to be named in November.

Okonjo-Iweala earlier this month voiced confidence in her quest to lead the crisis-wracked WTO after all of Africa backed her candidacy, vowing she would champion reform.

"I feel the wind behind my back," she told a virtual press briefing after the 55-member African Union officially supported her over her sole remaining opponent, Yoo Myung-hee of South Korea.

ENGULFED IN CRISES

But at a time when the WTO is engulfed by multiple crises, Okonjo-Iweala stressed that the new chief must above all be highly skilled in political and diplomatic negotiations, as well as at the managerial level.

"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," she said.

"It is not only having those skills, but having them all meet in one person at this juncture when the WTO needs that."

Even before the Covid-19 crisis hit, the WTO was already grappling with stalled trade talks and struggling to curb tensions between the United States and China.

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

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

"I am a reform candidate and I think the WTO needs the reform credentials and skills now."

OTHER SUPPORT

The initial pool of eight candidates for the WTO's top post, which has been whittled down over two rounds of consultations, had included three Africans, and the AU had until now refrained from offering an official endorsement.

Okonjo-Iweala said earlier this month she was thrilled to learn that "all African countries are getting behind me."

In addition, she said, a group of Caribbean and Pacific states had also said they would back her, bringing the number of countries officially endorsing her candidacy to 79.

She also said she felt "optimistic" about her support in Latin America, and said she felt she had gotten "very good traction and good support" in Asia so far.

"I feel quite confident that across the regions, we will be able to attract" support, Okonjo-Iweala added. – Nampa/AFP

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