CAPE TOWN – The European Parliament (EP) has this week endorsed the candidature of Nigeria’s former finance Minister Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in her bid for the position of the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Okonjo-Iweala presented her vision for the WTO before the EP’s Steering Group of the Parliamentary Conference on the World Trade Organisation (PCWTO) on the 19th of October along with her rival, South Korea’s Minister of Trade, Yoo Myung-hee. After deliberations, the EP released a statement endorsing the candidate of Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
The PCWTO Group Co-Chair Sven Simon announced the endorsement on twitter and attached a statement, “I am pleased to announce, that the European Parliament is endorsing Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the Director-General of the WTO. After our joint hearing on Monday we are convinced by her vision for the future of multilateralism and advise WTO members to support her bid.”
Okonjo-Iweala’s world renowned career
Okonjo-Iweala, 66, had a 25-year career as a development economist at the World Bank where she rose to become the Managing Director, she also served as Nigerian finance minister twice under different administrations and once as minister of foreign affairs. She is the current Chair of the Board of Gavi, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation.
On top of Okonjo-Iweala’s impressive resume, her name is well decorated having featured 5 times on the Forbes Top 100 Most Powerful Women in the World. She also featured in 50 Greatest World Leaders (Fortune, 2015), the Top 100 Most Influential People in the World (TIME, 2014), the Top 100 Global Thinkers (Foreign Policy, 2011 and 2012).
Uniting WTO’s divided membership
The WTO is currently facing its worst ever crisis and divisions among its 164 membership amid threats by the U.S government to pull out of the organisation. The U.S is citing hyperglobalization, an inefficient world trading system and China’s supposed “economic imperialism,” as some of it’s reasons for its frustration with the organisation. The next DG of the WTO faces an uphill task of ensure the U.S stays in the organization, facilitate an end to the US-China trade impasse and unite the membership as well as ensure fair trade practices among its member countries. The European Parliament is convinced Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is the best candidate for that task.
“Dr Okonjo-Iweala appears to be well-equipped 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 EP noted.
It’s time for Africa? A woman?
No African and no woman has headed up the WTO headed its predecessor organization, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which started in 1948. There are growing calls for the next DG of the WTO to come from a developing region as most DGs have been from developed nations. Gender parity will also be a key factor on the selection of the next WTO DG.
Speaking at a WTO press conference after her nomination, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala also emphasised why the next DG should be an African woman. ” The organisation has not had an a woman or an African as DG and I think it’s been led by men from developed countries for 62 years. And 10 years (led by) men from developing countries. My insistence is that the next DG should be chosen on merit, if that’s person happens to be a woman and from Africa, great!”
Experts also believe her political background will be an added advantage to address the organisation’s challenges as the organisation is not necessarily having a skills deficit but a political muscle deficit.