The European Parliament (EP) has endorsed Nigeria’s candidate for the position of the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
The parliament said it screened the two remaining candidates in the WTO DG race, Okonjo-Iweala and Ms. Yoo Myung-hee of South Korea, and is convinced that the Nigerian candidate has the ‘energy’ and is ‘well-equipped’ for the job.
So far, 79 out of the 164 states that comprise the WTO have endorsed Nigeria’s first female finance and foreign minister for the job.
The EP, in a letter on Wednesday signed by the Co-chairs of the Parliamentary Conference on the WTO Steering Group, Mr. Bernd Lange and Mr. Sven Simon, said the European Parliament was satisfied with Okonjo-Iweala’s level of requirements and skills.
They urged the European Union (EU) to express support for the candidacy of the former World Bank director.
The letter titled, ‘EP Exchanges of Views with WTO Director-General candidates,’ partly read, “On 19 October, the EP’s Steering Group of the Parliamentary Conference on the World Trade Organisation organised exchanges of views with the two remaining candidates for the role of Director-General of the WTO.
“On this occasion, both candidates gave us an extensive account of their plans for the future of the organisation and the approach they would choose in order to deal with the crises that are currently threatening the multilateral trading system.
“Both candidates are extremely experienced, well qualified and knowledgeable, and have their own clear visions for the WTO’s future and priorities, and the Director-General’s role in shaping it, as well concerning the important role for parliamentarians in that future.
“During the discussions, we appreciated, in particular, the vision that Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala presented for tackling the substantial challenges the organisation is facing.
“Her assessment of the existing problems of the organisation revealed a deep understanding of the fault lines dividing the WTO’s membership.
“The points she set out for her first steps after being appointed to the position reveal a clear-eyed agenda, tackling head-on key topics such as special and differential treatment, industrial subsidies and dispute settlement reform while recognising the need for positive momentum through the conclusion of agreements on issues such as fisheries, e-commerce, and health.
“We also appreciated the energy with which she is likely to approach her new role. It appears to us that her personal approach is what is needed now to resolve the key questions at the organisation.
“Dr Okonjo-Iweala appears to be well-equipped for being the fair broker who could bring key players together and help them find the compromises that will be needed to resolve the WTO’s complex set of challenges and the deep disagreements between its members.
“We, therefore, very much hope that the EU will be able to support Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s candidacy during the last round.”
The global trade body is set to be led by a woman for the first time, irrespective of whichever of the two candidates is successful in their bid to succeed Mr. Roberto Azevedo, who stepped down as WTO director-general in August, a year ahead of schedule.
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.
The third and final round of consultations seeking to establish consensus around one candidate is due to begin next week and end on October 27, with the announcement due in early November.
Okonjo-Iweala, 66, served as Nigeria’s first female finance and foreign minister, and has a 25-year career behind her as a development economist at the World Bank, eventually becoming its number two.
She is also on Twitter’s board of directors and is a special envoy for the World Health Organisation’s COVID-19 fight.
According to analysts, Okonjo-Iweala’s high professional/personal qualities, international contacts and impeccable records as Nigeria’s former Finance minister/Foreign Affairs minister and as former managing director of the World Bank, stand her high above the other contestant.
She 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, 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 and 2011-2015 and briefly as Nigeria’s Foreign Affairs minister in 2006, the first woman to hold both positions.
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.