WTO: Okonjo-Iweala reacts as US Government formally backs her as DG

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Nigeria’s former Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has reacted as the United States Government formally gave their backing of her candidature to lead the World Trade Organization (WTO).

This removes the final obstacle to her bid to be the first woman and first African to head the Geneva-based trade organization.

Okonjo-Iweala, in her reaction through a tweet post, expressed gratitude for the show of support from the United States in her bid as the DG of WTO. She congratulated her South Korean opponent, Yoo Myung-hee, for a hard-fought campaign.

The former Finance Minister also thanked President Muhammadu Buhari and all Nigerians for their unflinching support throughout the campaign.

Okonjo-Iweala in her tweet post said, “Grateful for the expression of support from the US today for DG of WTO, congratulations to Madam Yoo of the Republic of Korea for a hard-fought campaign. Thank you President Muhammadu Buhari and all Nigerians for your unflinching support. Thank you, friends. Love to my family. Glory to God.”

What the US Trade Representative is saying

The US Trade Representative (USTR), in a statement on Friday, said, “Dr. Okonjo-Iweala brings a wealth of knowledge in economics and international diplomacy. She is widely respected for her effective leadership and has proven experience managing a large international organization with a diverse membership.”

The USTR also added that it looked forward to working with a new WTO director-general to find paths forward to achieve necessary substantive and procedural reform of the WTO.

The decision of Joe Biden’s administration’s to support Okonjo-Iweala for the WTO job will be viewed in Geneva as a welcome shift in US support for the multilateral trading system following 4 years of criticisms against the trade organization by former President Donald Trump who previously described it as the worst trade deal the US ever signed.

With the US now joining a consensus, WTO general council Chairman, David Walker, is expected to soon announce a meeting in Geneva, where the organization’s members will formally approve Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment to a 4-year term as Director-General.

What the European Commission Trade Commissioner is saying

European Commission Trade Commissioner, Valdis Dombrovskis, expressed his delight in seeing strong US support for Okonjo-Iweala.

On his tweet post, he said, “Good to see strong US support for Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to lead the World Trade Organization. She is the EU’s candidate of choice. Let’s now move forward with her appointment so we can give the necessary stability to WTO and start the much needed reform process.’

What you should know

The WTO has been without a leader since September, following the stepping down of Roberto Azevedo, who vacated the position a year before the completion of his term. Since then, the WTO has been overseen by four unelected deputy directors-general.

The WTO’s leadership-selection process got to a stalemate last year when the Trump administration vetoed Okonjo-Iweala’s candidacy and said it preferred her opponent, South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee, despite the overwhelming support she got from other members.

That opposition was enough to halt the selection process because WTO decisions are made on the basis of a consensus of its 164 members.

The South Korean candidate, Yoo, formally announced her withdrawal from the contest on Friday following consultations with the Biden administration.

Okonjo-Iweala, who was a 2-time Finance Minister in Nigeria, was a former Managing Director of the World Bank.

The 66-year old economist, who was until recently a chair at the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, has pledged to take a more active role as Director-General and to act as a sounding board to try to find common ground among the trade body’s disparate membership.



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