President Muhammadu Buhari last June presented Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as Nigeria’s candidate to be the director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO). We learnt that she was a late replacement for Yonov Frederik Agah, Nigeria’s permanent representative to WTO.
The position becomes vacant in September after Brazilian Director-General Roberto Azevedo steps down at the end of August. He announced in May that he would leave the 25-year-old WTO a year before his term ends. According to him, “it’s the best way to avoid more chaos” at the alliance, which has already been weakened by attacks from President Donald Trump and the start of a global recession caused by Covid-19 pandemic.
Okonjo-Iweala is going into the contest with intimidating credentials. She is a former World Bank executive who negotiated a write-off of Nigeria’s debt in the mid-2000s. She has served as minister of finance, economy and foreign affairs in Nigeria, and is currently one of the African Union’s special envoys to mobilize international support for the continent’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. She has been Independent Director of Twitter, Inc. since July 19, 2018, and Senior Advisor of Lazard Ltd since September 21, 2015. Okonjo Iweala has worked with Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and she is also an Adviser to World Bank on the Stolen Assets Recovery initiative. She served as Managing Director at The World Bank Group from December 1, 2007 to August 2011. Recently, South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, named her on his economic advisory team.
However, in this contest our candidate will face off against equally tough nominees of other nations. Yoo Myung-hee from the Republic of Korea, the first female trade minister for the Republic, has over 25 years of career experience in trade. She is described as a skilled negotiator and strategist. Another nominee is Mr. Jesús Seade Kuri from Mexico. He is said to be versed in global trade negotiation and policy. He had worked at the WTO, IMF and World Bank. He was once a deputy director of GATT and founding deputy director-general of WTO. He is currently Mexico’s under-secretary for North America.
Mr. Tudor Ulianovschi from Moldova (never heard of that country before). Mr. Tudor Ulianovschi served as the minister of foreign affairs for his country as well as representing his country in various international fora like the World Economic Forum in Devos in 2019. Mr. Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh, from Egypt, has played an important role in trade policy and diplomacy for 35 years on half of Egypt. He had worked in the WTO as a senior official and he counts on his supposed long WTO senior management experience.
We expect our Okonjo-Iweala to make it through the selection process to the grand finale. She is thoroughly focused on her vision of a WTO that will favour the least developed countries (LDCs) and Small Vulnerable Economies (SVEs). She said in a recent presentation to the WTO General Council she would provide opportunities for them to participate in regional and global supply chains in order to enhance their presence in the trading system. “We must have a WTO that works for the benefit of all members regardless of size or level of economic development. LDCs and SVEs should have opportunities to participate in regional and global supply chains to enhance their presence in the trading system.” According to her, considering the challenges facing the global economy, including COVID-19, there is need for coherence in the policy responses of international organisations, including the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, International Finance Corporation, regional development banks, the World Health Organisation and the United Nations”