FG Promises to Back Okonjo-Iweala to Victory in Contest for WTO DG

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

· Nigeria’s candidate confident to win
· Has support of most members, insists organisation

Obinna Chima in Lagos, Adedayo Akinwale and Udora Orizu in Abuja

The federal government yesterday committed itself again to the emergence of Nigeria’s nominee, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, as the director-general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Nigeria would continue to engage stakeholders to ensure that Okonjo-Iweala emerges the successor to Ambassador Roberto Azevêdo, who stepped down on August 31, a year ahead of the completion of his four-year second term in office.

But for the opposition of the United States, Okonjo-Iweala would have been announced on Wednesday as the first female and African to lead the global trade body.

In the race for the post, she had garnered the votes of 163 of the 164 members of the trade organisation, to be named the preferred candidate for the job compared to her challenger, Ms. Yoo Myung-hee of South Korea, backed by the US.

By WTO regulations, the director-general should emerge by consensus.

Commenting on the development yesterday, Okonjo-Iweala said a positive attitude would be maintained despite the hiccups.

She tweeted: “Happy for the success & continued progress of our @wto DG bid. Very humbled to be declared the candidate with the largest, broadest support among members & most likely to attract consensus.

“We move on to the next step on November 9, despite hiccups. We’re keeping the positivity going!”

The WTO, however, officially revealed yesterday what transpired at its Wednesday’s meeting where it was expected to have concluded the selection process, saying that majority of its members indicated “strong preference for Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as DG.”

A statement signed by the spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Ferdinand Nwonye, said Nigeria would continue to consult with stakeholders ahead of the WTO’s November 9 general council meeting.

It said: “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs wishes to inform that the third and final round of the selection process of the director-general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) was concluded on Tuesday, 27th October 2020, and the result was formally announced on Wednesday, 28th October 2020.

“The candidate from Nigeria, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has secured the support of the majority of the member countries but is yet to be declared and returned the winner.

“This is because apart from winning the election, all 164 member states of WIO were expected to adopt the winner by consensus; in accordance with the rule of procedure of the WTO.

“It is important to highlight that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has secured cross-regional backing with only the United States opposing the consensus.

“Nigeria will continue to engage relevant stakeholders to ensure that the lofty aspiration of her candidate to lead the World Trade Organisation is realised.”
Members Have ‘Strong Preference’ for Okonjo-Iweala, WTO Insists

The WTO yesterday officially revealed what transpired at its Wednesday’s meeting where it was expected to have concluded the selection process, saying majority of its members indicated “strong preference for Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as DG.”

The Geneva-based organisation, in a statement posted on its website, quoted the WTO General Council Chair, Ambassador David Walker, as saying: “She (Okonjo-Iweala) clearly carried the largest support by members in the final round and she clearly enjoyed broad support from members from all levels of development and all geographic regions and has done so throughout the process.”

Owing to this, Walker said he submitted the name of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the candidate most likely to attract consensus and recommended her appointment by the General Council as the next director-general of the WTO until August 31, 2024.

Walker stated that at the Heads of Delegation meeting that his decision was the assessment of the “troika” of facilitators, adding that a formal decision had to be taken by the members at a General Council meeting, which he has scheduled for November 9.

The General Council is the WTO’s pre-eminent decision-making body, save for the Ministerial Conference, which normally meets every two years.

However, Walker said his assessment was challenged by the United States, which said it would continue to support Yoo and would not back Okonjo-Iweala.

Walker said members had expressed their views to him, Ambassador Dacio Castillo (Honduras) and Ambassador Harald Aspelund (Iceland) during the third and final stage of consultations from October 19th to 27th.

The General Council chair explained that since the process to replace Azevêdo began, the ultimate objective of the measured and clearly defined selection process has been to secure a consensus decision by members.

He praised the membership for their adherence to the guidelines and for their robust participation in the exercise.

“The entire membership remained fully engaged in and committed to this process. The facilitators and I are grateful for this consistently very positive response.

“Throughout the process, it has been clear that all members have attached the greatest importance to this appointment,” Walker said.

He paid tribute to all eight of the candidates who participated in the DG selection process and in particular to Yoo who had advanced to the third round in this process.

“Ms Yoo has vast experience, which she has acquired in a number of leading positions and her outstanding qualifications are highly valued by all members,” he stated.

The General Council had agreed on July 31 that there would be three stages of consultations held over a two-month period commencing on September 7.

During the confidential consultations, the field of candidates was narrowed from eight to five and then two as Walker, Castillo, chair of the Dispute Settlement Body, and Aspelund, chair of the Trade Policy Review Body, posed a single question to each delegation: “What are your preferences?”

The consultation process taken by facilitators was set by guidelines established by the General Council in a 2002 decision.

According to the guidelines, the key consideration in determining which candidate is best poised to achieve the consensus is the “breadth of support” each candidate receives from the members.

During the DG selection processes of 2005 and 2013, breadth of support was defined as “The distribution of preferences across geographic regions and among the categories of members generally recognised in WTO provisions: that is (least developed countries), developing countries and developed countries.”

The chair said the team was guided by the practices established in these General Council proceedings and the decisions made clear that “breadth of support means the larger membership.”