Last Friday’s declaration of support by the the United States government for Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s candidacy for the Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) signifies the removal of the last obstacle in the race, President Muhammadu Buhari has said.
Following the withdrawal of her only opponent in the race, and the latest decision by the US government to rescind its opposition, Mrs Okonjo-Iweala is just one step away from clinching victory as the first woman to occupy the office.
The only thing left in the 25-step process for her to be elected the 7th Director-General of the WTO is for the WTO General Council, the highest decision-making body of the WTO after the Ministerial Conference, to reconvene its meeting to ratify Mrs Okonjo-Iweala as the consensus candidate.
The Council, which was earlier scheduled to meet on November 9,2020 to perform that function, resolved to postpone it indefinitely following the US opposition to her candidacy.
By October 29, 2020, Mrs Okonjo-Iweala, the Nigerian nominee and African candidate was already coasting home to victory in the race.
But her consensus candidacy was strongly opposed by the United States.
The Office of the US trade representative on the WTO director-general selection process said the then Donald Trump administration preferred the Korean Trade Minister, Yoo Myung-hee.
On October 28, 2020, WTO DG selection panel (Troika) had submitted to the WTO General Council the result of the third and final rounds of consultations concluded the previous day.
The submission of the name of the candidate most likely to attract consensus is in line with the procedures for the appointment of WTO DG contained in WTO Agreement, WT/L/509 of January 20, 2003.
The result showed Mrs Okonjo-Iweala as the preferred candidate in the race for the WTO top office over her only opponent.
The Trioka said the Nigerian candidate garnered the overwhelming backing from the vast majority of the 164 member-countries, including the European Union, Japan, India, Indonesia and China.
Mrs Okonjo-Iweala was consequently presented as the consensus candidate for confirmation during the meeting of the WTO’s general council scheduled for November 9, 2020.
However, the opposition by the US representative meant the confirmation was stalled and the election process must be repeated.
Buhari welcomes US government decision
In his reaction to the new US administration to rescind its previous stance and opt to strongly support the Nigerian candidate, President Buhari said he welcomed the decision.
“We (Nigeria) certainly welcome the decision of the new U.S administration to remove the last obstacle in the path of Dr. Okonjo-Iweala to becoming the first female and the first person of African descent to lead the organization,” the President said.
“Nigeria and the entire African continent are happy about this new U.S position, which signifies a shift and an important turnaround in the relations between our continent and the United States under the Biden administration,”he added.
President Buhari said in a statement by his special adviser on Media, Gaeba Shehu, that with the change in position, he sees the United States standing with Nigeria and Africa to accept Mrs Okonjo-Iweala as the widely accepted candidate to lead the WTO.
“We look forward to working very closely with the new U.S administration on this and all issues of common interests, especially in such areas as accelerated economic growth, fight against terrorism and deepening progress on development issues,’ he said.
On Friday, the US government, through its WTO representative which previous opposed Mrs Okonjo-Iweala’s election, said its now strongly in support of her candidacy.
“The Biden-Harris Administration is pleased to express its strong support for the candidacy of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the next Director-General of the WTO.
“Dr. Okonjo-Iweala brings a wealth of knowledge in economics and international diplomacy from her 25 years with the World Bank and two terms as Nigerian Finance Minister.
“She is widely respected for her effective leadership and has proven experience managing a large international organization with a diverse membership,” the US government said in the statement.
The change in position on the issue followed the decision by Mrs Okonjo-Iweala’s only opposition in the race and Republic of Korea’s Trade Minister, Yoo Myung-hee to withdraw her candidacy.