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Nigeria’s Okonjo-Iweala opposed by United States for WTO top job

The United States says it is not backing former Nigeria finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to be the next Director-General of the World Trade Organization.

America’s opposition to her candidature comes after the three WTO ambassadors charged with the task of finding the next WTO chief settled on the Nigerian, Reuters has reported.

The choice of the Nigerian to be the next chief of the WTO was relayed to the members of the organization by the head of the “troika” ambassadors at a meeting on Wednesday, the report added.

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However, the US representative at the meeting reportedly insisted that South Korea’s candidate, Yoo Myung-hee remained a contender and that Washington will not recognize Okonjo-Iweala as the consensus candidate for appointment as director-general, according to Theafricareport. 

As a result of America’s opposition to Okonjo-Iweala’s candidature, the General Counsel has postponed its announcement of the new Director-General until a further meeting, which is scheduled for 9 November; after the US presidential elections, the report added.

If Okonjo-Iweala is approved by consensus, she will replace Roberto Azevêdo as the next WTO Director-General. Azevêdo stepped down as WTO Director-General on 31 August 2020, a year before the expiry of his mandate.

The Financial Times reported on Tuesday that the European Union (EU) will back Okonjo-Iweala as the next Director-General of the WTO. An EU official said the decision to back the Nigerian was “a strong signal to reinforce the multilateral order and clear signal towards Africa and a sign of mutual trust.”

Okonjo-Iweala’s vast experience makes her suitable for the job. Besides serving as Nigeria’s finance minister, she also served as a Managing Director of the World Bank where she had oversight responsibility for the World Bank’s operational portfolio in Africa, South Asia, Europe, and Central Asia.

Okonjo-Iweala spearheaded several World Bank initiatives to assist low-income countries during both the food and later financial crisis. She has chaired the replenishment of over $40 billion for the International Development Association (IDA), the grant, and the soft credit arm of the World Bank.

Her achievements as Finance Minister garnered international recognition for improving Nigeria’s financial stability and fostering greater fiscal transparency to combat corruption. In October 2005, she led the Nigerian team that negotiated the cancellation of 60% of Nigeria’s external debt ($18 billion) with the Paris Club. 

She was educated at Harvard and has a PhD in Regional Economics and Development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Okonjo-Iweala is the recipient of numerous awards, including Honorary Doctorates from Trinity College, Dublin, Brown University, and Amherst College, among others. She is the recipient of Time magazine’s European Hero of the Year Award, 2004, for her work on economic reform in Nigeria among many other recognitions.