European Parliament endorses Okonjo-Iweala for WTO Director-General job

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The European Parliament (EP) has endorsed the candidacy of Nigeria’s former Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, for the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Okonjo-Iweala, and South Korea’s Yoo Myung-hee had on October 7, 2020, advanced to the final stage of selection to become the next Director-General of the WTO.

In a letter signed by the Co-chairs of the Parliamentary Conference on the World Trade Organisation (PCWTO) Steering Group, Bernd Lange and Sven Simon, the EP said it is endorsing the former Nigerian minister for the top job.

The parliament said the decision was made after an exchange with the two remaining candidates on Monday.

It said it is convinced by Okonjo-Iweala’s vision for the future of multilateralism and advised WTO members to support her bid.

“On 19 October, the EP’s Steering Group of the Parliamentary Conference on the World Trade Organisation (PCWTO) organised exchanges of views with the two remaining candidates for the role of Director-General of the WTO,” the letter read.

“On this occasion, both candidates gave us an extensive account of their plans for the future of the organisation and the approach they would chose (sic) in order to deal with the crises that are currently threatening the multilateral trading system.

“Both candidates are extremely experienced, well qualified and knowledgeable, and have their own clear visions for the WTO’s future and priorities, and the Director-General’s role in shaping it, as well concerning the important role for parliamentarians in that future.

“During the discussions, we appreciated in particular the vision that Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala presented for tackling the substantial challenges the organisation is facing.

“Her assessment of the existing problems of the organisation revealed a deep understanding of the fault lines dividing the WTO’s membership.

“The points she set out for her first steps after being appointed to the position reveal a clear-eyed agenda, tackling head-on key topics such as special and differential treatment, industrial subsidies and dispute settlement reform while recognising the need for positive momentum through the conclusion of agreements on issues such as fisheries, e-commerce, and health.”

According to the EP, the planned reforms to be implemented by Okonjo-Iweala are “a key source for the legitimacy and accountability that is needed now more than ever to increase acceptance of international trade among the world’s population.”

Also, it said her plans on the empowerment of women, delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals and value-based trade align with its global priorities.

“We also appreciated the energy with which she is likely to approach her new role. It appears to us that her personal approach is what is needed now to resolve the key questions at the organisation.

“Dr Okonjo-Iweala appears to be well-equiped for being the fair broker who could bring key players together and help them find the compromises that will be needed to resolve the WTO‘s complex set of challenges and the deep disagreements between its members.

“We therefore very much hope that the EU will be able to support Dr Okonjo-Iweala‘s candidacy during the last round,” the parliament added.

The reduction of the field from five to two earlier in October confirmed that the 25-year-old Geneva-based trade body would be led by a woman for the first time.

Okonjo-Iweala, also a former Nigerian foreign minister, is an economist and development specialist now serving as board chair of global vaccine alliance, Gavi.

She has said the WTO should play a role in helping poorer countries access COVID-19 drugs and vaccines.

The initial pool of eight candidates to replace Brazilian Roberto Azevedo, who stepped down as WTO Director-General in August – a year ahead of schedule, had been narrowed down to five in September.

The organisation aims to find a replacement by early November.

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