Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala: EU pledges bloc’s backing for WTO job

By Abankula with agency reports

Former Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s ambition to head the World Trade Organization got a big boost today, with the declaration of support by the European Union.

An EU official made this known on Monday, sending a signal of trust in Africa.

Okonjo-Iweala already has Africa’s backing.

She and South Korean trade minister Yoo Myung-hee are vying to be the first female leader in the WTO’s 25-year history.

Either Okonjo-Iweala or Yoo will replace Brazilian Roberto Azevedo, who quit a year earlier than expected at the end of August.

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The EU’s support for Okonjo-Iweala is considered a strong signal to reinforce the multilateral order and a sign of mutual trust between the bloc and Africa, the official said.

The AFP reported that the EU will publicly announce its support for the 66-year-old Nigerian economist on Tuesday.

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

One European source told AFP 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.”

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With the EU backing, Okonjo-Iweala 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.

The WTO’s consultation process ends on Tuesday and the new leader is expected to be named in November.

The WTO faces dual challenges: criticism from U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration which froze its appeals body by blocking its appointment of judges, and worsening U.S.-China trade relations.

Okonjo-Iweala, 66, a previous Nigerian foreign minister, is an economist and development specialist serving as board chair of global vaccine alliance Gavi.

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She wants the WTO to help poorer countries access COVID-19 drugs and vaccines.