WTO Ignores Egypt, Accepts Okonjo-Iweala’s Nomination as DG

Ngozi Okonjo Iweala

•Ex-minister emerges front runner in leadership race

Obinna Chima

World Trade Organisation (WTO) yesterday said it had received the nomination of Nigeria’s former Minister of Finance and former Managing Director (Operations) of the World Bank, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, for the position of its director general.

According to analysts, the former minister is widely regarded as a front runner in the leadership race at WTO, given statements by local and international experts and analysis by influential media platforms.
The Geneva-based global trade body, in a three-paragraph statement on its website yesterday, said: “Nigeria nominates Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala for post of WTO Director-General.

“Nigeria, on 9 June 2020, nominated Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala for the post of WTO Director-General to succeed the current Director-General, Mr. Roberto Azevêdo, who has announced he will step down on 31 August 2020.

“According to the timetable announced by the Chair of the General Council, David Walker, the nomination period will close on 8 July 2020.
“Shortly after the nomination period has closed, candidates will be invited to meet with members at a special General Council meeting, present their views and take questions from the membership.”

On same day, WTO added that Egypt, which is opposed to Okonjo-Iweala’s nomination, has nominated Mr. Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh for the same position.
Egypt had opposed the nomination of Okonjo-Iweala on the ground that it was belated.
The North African country told members of the African Union that her nomination should not be recognised.

In a letter to the African Union (AU) member-states, Egypt had contended that her nomination was out of time and therefore breached the rules of nomination, which import they said, was that Nigeria no longer had a candidate for the position.

It said AU member-states had been required to nominate candidates for the director general position by November 30, 2019, over five months ago, while the request to substitute Yonok Frederick Agah was made on June 4, 2020.

Mexico had on Monday nominated Mr. Jesús Seade Kuri for the same position.
President Muhammadu Buhari, last week, had approved Okonjo-Iweala’s nomination and withdrew the candidacy of Agah, Nigeria’s permanent representative to WTO for the same position.

Okonjo-Iweala is a renowned global finance expert, an economist and international development professional with over 30 years of experience, having worked in Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America, and North America.

She is presently the Chair of the Board of GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance. Since its creation in 2000, GAVI has immunised over 760 million children across the globe. She also sits on the boards of Standard Chartered Plc and Twitter Inc. She was recently appointed African Union Special Envoy to mobilise international financial support in the fight against COVID-19, as well as Envoy for the World Health Organisation’s access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator.

The Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Ms. Kristalina Georgieva, also recently appointed Okonjo-Iweala, to serve as a member of her newly-established External Advisory Group.

In addition, Okonjo-Iweala served twice as Nigeria’s Finance Minister from 2003-2006, 2011-2015 and briefly as Nigeria’s Foreign Affairs Minister in 2006, the first woman to hold both positions.

She had a 25-year career at the World Bank as a development economist, rising to the number two position of Managing Director (Operations).
As finance minister, Okonjo-Iweala steered Nigeria through the varying degree of reforms, particularly on macroeconomic, trade, financial and real sector issues.

As Managing Director (Operations) of the World Bank, her several portfolios included oversight responsibility for the World Bank’s $81 billion operational portfolio in Africa, South Asia, Europe, and Central Asia.

Okonjo-Iweala spearheaded several World Bank initiatives to assist low-income countries during the 2008-2009 food crisis and later in the trying period of the global financial crisis.
About three weeks ago, the incumbent WTO Director General, Mr. Roberto Azevêdo, had announced that he would step down from the position on August 31, 2020, cutting his second term short by one year.

The decision, according to Azevêdo, is to give his successor the time to work with WTO members to shape the strategic direction for the Twelfth Ministerial Conference (MC12) and beyond.
The election is scheduled to hold in Geneva, Switzerland next year.

Ex-minister Emerges Front Runner in WTO Leadership Race

Analysts have tipped the former minister as a front runner in the bid to succeed Azevêdo.
They said Okonjo-Iweala’s ranking was based on statements by local and international experts and analyses by influential media platforms.

According to the analysts, the strident objection of Egypt to Okonjo-Iweala’s nomination also underscores how the permutations and projections on the race have been dramatically altered by her emergence.

Commenting on Okonjo-Iweala’s entry into the race, an influential US political and policy platform POLITICO, said: “Nigeria has upped the stakes in the race to select the next World Trade Organisation chief by nominating heavy-hitter Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the country’s candidate.”

The online newspaper described Okonjo-Iweala as “a formidable opponent to potential EU contenders.”
Other experts are hailing Okonjo-Iweala as potentially WTO’s first African head to lead the institution out of the challenges that have paralysed it as a result of the trade war between the US and China.

The calculation is that since Africa is not perceived as a partisan player in the tariff battle between China, the US and the EU, an African candidate like Okonjo-Iweala would have a huge advantage in stabilising WTO and leading it into a new era that would boost global trade and the global economy in the post-COVID period.

Egypt’s objection to Iweala’s nomination is also seen by many experts in this light.
The country’s reaction, according to insiders, is based on its calculation that Okonjo-Iweala’s nomination by Nigeria would automatically put its candidate who does not have the former finance minister’s stature and experience in a disadvantaged position.

“It is not surprising that Egypt came out so strongly against Okonjo-Iweala. It is obviously scared that her nomination will not be in its favour.

“The country had thought that it was going to have a smooth sail by persuading the candidate of Benin Republic to step down for her candidate. But Nigeria’s nomination of Okonjo-Iweala demonstrates clearly that the country has a strong candidate who is creating positives ripples in many important spaces in the world,” they said.