Opinion

WTO: Okonjo-Iweala On The Cusps Of History

By Labaran Saleh

Who becomes the next Director General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in a matter of weeks? It will surely be either Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and South Korea’s Yoo Myung-hee.

Members of WTO have since picked the two celebrated women as the final candidates. Hence, Okonjo-Iweala and Myung-hee have both advanced to the final round, in the race to lead the Geneva-based trade body.

It is already a fait accompli that WTO will have the first female DG in its 25-year history, in either of the two finalists.

Okonjo-Iweala, who served two stints as Nigeria’s finance minister and one term as foreign affairs minister, has invaluable experience working at international governance bodies. She was a former managing director of the World Bank, and chairman at the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization.

Myung-hee is South Korea’s trade minister. But during her 25-year career in government, she has helped to expand her country’s trade network through bilateral accords with the U.S., China, and the U.K.

The United Kingdom’s Liam Fox, Kenya’s Amina Chawahir Mohamed Jibril, and Saudi Arabia’s Mohammad Maziad Al-Tuwaijri, all did not secure enough support in the second round of consultations.

The Economic Confidential gathered that the third and final phase of the consultation process will begin later this month (October 2020) and run until November 6, 2020 after which the WTO will endeavor to name a consensus winner of the race. If WTO members are unable to select a leader by consensus, then a vote requiring a qualified majority could be held as a last resort, which would be an unprecedented development for the organization.

Though, pundits agreed that Myung-hee, is well versed in the rules and processes that govern the multilateral system having specialised in this area since the mid-1990s, they consider her candidacy unlikely to win the backing of China.

On the other hand, Okonjo-Iweala, who has dual citizenship of Nigeria and America is viewed as someone with less in-depth knowledge of trade policy, but as a respected economist and Nigeria’s former finance as well as foreign affairs minister, she sure has immense politically savvy.

“She has displayed a knack for slick communications during her candidacy, while Ms Myung-hee has been more tight-lipped throughout the process.

“Ms Okonjo-Iweala has the advantage of experience in running a big international organisation, having chaired the board of Gavi, the vaccine alliance.

“The role requires a dealmaker — a skill that Ms Okonjo-Iweala clearly possesses. The new DG must also advocate the benefits of trade in the production and distribution of possible vaccines against Covid-19 and fight critics who argue for reshoring.

“Given her experience, and the internal politics of the organisation, Nigeria’s candidate seems likely to have the edge,” says the Financial Times.

Analysts from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, strongly believe that many nations, particularly in Africa and the EU, are expected to support a green reformer.. Okonjo-Iweala previously co-chaired the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate along with Nicholas Stern, the author of ‘the Stern review’ which raised awareness of climate change in the UK.

They analysts pointed out that Okonjo-Iweala used her written candidate statement to call for environmental reform of the WTO’s trade rules, while the other candidate said little about climate change.

Apart from President Muhammadu Buhari’s assurance to reach out to world leaders to support her, the African countries have endorsed her candidature.   

A group of Caribbean and Pacific states have also pledged to back her, bringing the number of countries officially endorsing her candidacy to more than 80.

Yet, the prerogative of electing the next DG of WTO is exclusively for members of WTO. The global community awaits their decision between ‘Nigeria and South Korea’ with bated breath.

Providence and luck, African continent fervently hopes and also prays, would be on the side of ‘Madam’ Okonjo-Iweala. The only Nigerian amazon, presently on the cusps of making history!

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