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Okonjo Iweala’s victory before election : 106 out of 164, EU block support

By Nonso Ejelonu 

The most expected has happened. It has become a done deal. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala has by all standard emerged, even ahead of election slated for Nov 6. 2020.

A key group of WTO ambassadors has proposed Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to lead the World Trade Organization, trade sources told Reuters on Wednesday, clearing a path for her to become the first woman and African to head the global watchdog in its 25-year history.

The WTO’s consultation process ends today and the new leader is expected to be named in November but an EU official said the EU has publicly announce its support for the 66-year-old economist today.

The final winner between the two women will replace Brazil’s Roberto Azevedo and former director-general of the 25-year-old trade organisation.

The decision, yet to be finalised, caps a more than four-month selection process involving intensive lobbying which saw her square up against South Korean trade minister Yoo Myung-hee in the final round.

The recommendation of former minister Okonjo-Iweala was made by three WTO ambassadors, the so-called “troika”, after consulting with members in a series of closed-door meetings in Geneva as part of an intricate and secretive process that some have compared to a papal succession.

The troika, led by New Zealand’s Ambassador David Walker, is due to make the formal recommendation to a closed-door meeting of heads of delegations at 3 p.m. (1400 GMT).

It still needs to be approved by consensus at a meeting of the WTO’s 164 members.

Many members such as China and the United States have declined to name their preference publicly although some African, Caribbean and other states have voiced support for Okonjo-Iweala.

The European Union endorsed Okonjo-Iweala on Oct. 26. However, three sources following the contest said that Washington had privately indicated a preference for Yoo, although it is unknown whether it would block Ngozi.

The leadership void was created after outgoing WTO chief Roberto Azevedo, from Brazil, stepped down a year early in August. The WTO is currently being steered by four deputies.

The 27 European Union member states have backed Nigeria’s former finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, in her bid to become the first African and first female director-general of the World Trade Organisation.

The EU member states are France, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, and Sweden.

The latest support for Okonjo-Iweala’s candidacy brings the number of countries officially endorsing her to 106 out of the 164 states that comprise the WTO.

The 55-member African Union had earlier officially supported the former World Bank director over her sole remaining opponent, Yoo Myung-hee of South Korea.

Okonjo-Iweala had also won the goodwill of a group of Caribbean and Pacific States as well as others from Asia.

YOU NEWS had earlier reported that the European Parliament endorsed Okonjo-Iweala to head the WTO, saying she is well-equipped. The Parliament had subsequently written the EU to support the Nigerian candidate.

When EU member states convened on Monday, they failed to find a consensus around the choice but the EU representatives reconvened and agreed to back Okonjo-Iweala, according to AFP news agency.

Okonjo-Iweala, a 66-year-old former finance minister and World Bank managing director, will face considerable challenges with rival economies bickering amid rising tensions and protectionism during a coronavirus-induced trade plunge.

Her inbox will also feature an overhaul of the WTO’s top appeals body – which U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has brought to its knees by blocking judge appointments – and a major trade conference in 2021.

Okonjo-Iweala, a development expert, has branded herself a “do-er”, saying she has the political clout to command influence in capitals.

“I feel I can solve the problems. I’m a known reformer, not someone who talks about it. I’ve actually done it both at the World Bank and in my country,” she told Reuters.

Currently chair of the of GAVI vaccine alliance board, Okonjo-Iweala has also said the WTO should play a role in helping poorer countries access COVID-19 drugs and vaccines.

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