World Trade Organization

Nigeria candidate to lead WTO staying positive despite ‘hiccups’

Agence France-Presse
Nigeria candidate to lead WTO staying positive despite ‘hiccups’

In this file photo taken on July 15, 2020, Nigerian former foreign and finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala looks on in Geneva, following her hearing before World Trade Organization member states' representatives. - Key WTO ambassadors tapped Nigeria's Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on October 26, 2020 as the best pick to lead the organisation, but she was opposed by Washington, who said it supported South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee instead. The so-called troika of ambassadors heading the World Trade Organization's three main branches determined after four months of consultations with member states that Okonjo-Iweala was the most likely to obtain the consensus needed to take the top job, paving the way for her to become the first woman and the first African at its helm. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)


Nigeria's Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala gets broad support in her bid to become World Trade Organization director-general, but the United States opposes her candidacy

Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala acknowledged on Thursday, October 29, that her bid to head the World Trade Organization (WTO) was facing some “hiccups” after the United States opposed her candidacy, but said she was staying positive.

A day after a WTO selection committee backed her as the best pick to become the next director-general, Okonjo-Iweala tweeted that she was “happy for the success and continued progress of our WTO DG bid.”

“Very humbled to be declared the candidate with the largest, broadest support among members,” she said.

On Wednesday, October 28, the so-called troika of ambassadors heading the WTO’s 3 main branches determined after 3 rounds of consultations with member states that the 66-year-old former Nigerian finance and foreign minister was the most likely to obtain the consensus needed to take the top job.

The initial pool of 8 candidates for the WTO’s top post had been whittled down to 2 over 2 previous rounds of consultations, with only Okonjo-Iweala and South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee still in the race.

‘Lofty aspiration’

While the WTO’s 164 members will be given the final say in a meeting on November 9, trade diplomats had expected to see South Korea take the floor on Wednesday to withdraw Yoo’s candidacy to clear the way for a consensus decision.

But South Korea did not take the floor. 

Instead, the US representative did, stressing to WTO members that Yoo was still in the race and had Washington’s backing – making it the only country to oppose the troika’s position.

“We move on to the next step on Nov 9, despite hiccups,” Okonjo-Iweala said in her tweet.

“We’re keeping the positivity going!”

In a statement on Thursday, Nigeria’s foreign ministry also stressed that its candidate had “secured cross-regional backing with only the United States opposing the consensus.”

It stressed that the country would continue working to “ensure that the lofty aspiration of her candidate to lead the World Trade Organization is realized.”

There have been fears throughout the months-long process to find a replacement for Roberto Azevedo – who stepped down as WTO director-general in August, a year ahead of schedule – that the combative US stance towards the organization could complicate things.

The global trade body has faced relentless attacks from Washington, which has crippled the WTO dispute settlement appeal system and threatened to leave the organization altogether.

South Korea under pressure

But one Western trade diplomat told Agence France-Presse that the US actions during Wednesday’s meeting had caught some off-guard. 

It was highly unusual that a candidate’s decision to remain in the race was announced by a country other than her own, the trade diplomat said, suggesting that South Korea was facing US pressure to stay in the race.

At the same time, the country was also facing anger from African countries and others for not bowing out. 

“Korea is stuck between a rock and a hard place,” the trade diplomat said.

The standoff cast doubt on whether the WTO would manage to obtain consensus around either of the remaining candidates, conceivably forcing it to start the process over again, the source added.

After Wednesday’s meeting, diplomats desperate to find a solution tossed around the idea of removing the consensus requirement and putting the leadership race to a vote.

But Washington would likely flatly reject such a proposal, which would surely result in an overwhelming win for Okonjo-Iweala, the Western trade diplomat said.

“The only consequence of pushing for a vote would likely be to push the US further towards the exit.” –

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