28 EU countries back African candidate, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala for WTO leadership
London, Oct. 27, 2020 (AltAfrica)-The European Union comprising 28 countries is backing former Nigerian finance minister and African candidate, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to head the World Trade Organization, sending a signal of trust in Africa, an EU official told Reuters on Monday.
Okonjo-Iweala and South Korean trade minister Yoo Myung-hee are vying to be the first female leader in the WTO’s 25-year history, replacing Brazilian Roberto Azevedo, who quit a year earlier than expected at the end of August.
The EU’s support for Okonjo-Iweala is considered a strong signal to reinforce the multilateral order and a sign of mutual trust between the bloc and Africa, the official said.
The WTO faces dual challenges: criticism from U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration which froze its appeals body by blocking its appointment of judges, and worsening U.S.-China trade relations.
Okonjo-Iweala, 66, a previous Nigerian foreign minister, is an economist and development specialist serving as board chair of global vaccine alliance Gavi. She wants the WTO to help poorer countries access COVID-19 drugs and vaccines.
Okonjo-Iweala said she had broad experience in championing reform and was the right person to help put the WTO back on track.
“I am a reform candidate and I think the WTO needs the reform credentials and skills now.”
The initial pool of eight candidates for the WTO’s top post, which has been whittled down over two rounds of consultations, had included three Africans, and the AU had until now refrained from offering an official endorsement.
The third and final round of consultations seeking to establish consensus around one candidate is due to begin next week and end on October 27, with the announcement due in early November.
Okonjo-Iweala said she was thrilled to learn that “all African countries are getting behind me.”
In addition, she said, a group of Caribbean and Pacific states had also said they would back her, bringing the number of countries officially endorsing her candidacy to 79.
She also said she felt “optimistic” about her support in Latin America, and said she felt she had gotten “very good traction and good support” in Asia so far.
With the European Union backing her, that has given Iweala another 28 votes
“I feel quite confident that across the regions, we will be able to attract” support, Okonjo-Iweala added.