NIGERIA’S former finance minister Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has emerged as the frontrunner to become the next director-general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) after Egypt’s objection to her nomination was rejected.
Last week, President Muhammadu Buhari, nominated Dr Okonjo-Iweala, 65, as his candidate for the position, after withdrawing the candidacy of Yonov Agah, Nigeria’s permanent representative to WTO. However, Egypt objected to the nomination asking the WTO to reject it and also asked other African nations to support its candidate Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh.
Egypt had opposed the nomination of Dr Okonjo-Iweala on the grounds that it was belated. In a letter to African Union (AU) member-states, Egypt contended that Dr Okonjo-Iweala’s candidacy was out of time and therefore breached WTO nomination rules.
According to the Egyptians, AU member-states had been required to nominate candidates for the director-general position by November 30, 2019, over five months ago and the request to substitute Yonok Agah was made eight months late on June 4, 2020. However, the WTO has rejected the Egyptian objection and accepted Dr Okonjo-Iweala’s nomination.
Several analysts are now of the view that Dr Okonjo-Iweala, 65, is widely regarded as a front runner in the leadership race, given statements by local and international experts. Yesterday, the WTO issued a statement acknowledging the nomination of Dr Okonjo-Iweala for post of director-general.
Its statement read: “According to the timetable announced by the chair of the general council David Walker, the nomination period will close on 8 July 2020. Shortly after the nomination period has closed, candidates will be invited to meet with members at a special general council meeting, present their views and take questions from the membership.”
On Monday, Mexico nominated economist Jesús Seade Kuri for the same position, so the contest is looking like a two-horse race. Both candidates have experience of working with the World Bank and international development bodies.
Commenting on Dr Okonjo-Iweala’s entry into the race, influential US political and policy platform Politico, said: “Nigeria has upped the stakes in the race to select the next World Trade Organisation chief by nominating heavy-hitter Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the country’s candidate. Dr Okonjo-Iweala is a formidable opponent to potential European Union (EU) contenders.”
Other experts are hailing Dr Okonjo-Iweala as potentially WTO’s first African head to lead the institution out of the challenges that have paralysed it as a result of the trade war between the US and China. Their calculation is that since Africa is not perceived as a partisan player in the tariff battle between China, the US and the EU, an African candidate would have a huge advantage in stabilising the WTO and leading it into a new era that would boost global trade and the world economy in the post-Covid-19 era.
One expert added: “It is not surprising that Egypt came out so strongly against Okonjo-Iweala. It is obviously scared that her nomination will not be in its favour.
“The country had thought that it was going to have a smooth sail by persuading the candidate of Benin Republic to step down for her candidate. However, Nigeria’s nomination of Okonjo-Iweala demonstrates clearly that the country has a strong candidate who is creating positives ripples in many important spaces in the world.”