The European Union (EU) is backing Nigerian candidate Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to become the next director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO). The bloc is supporting Okonjo-Iweala after ambassadors from the EU’s 27 member states met in October during their summit in Brussels.
Although Europe initially had trouble agreeing on which frontrunner candidate to support, it has ultimately decided to support Nigeria’s Okonjo-Iweala instead of South Korea’s Yoo Myung-hee. While a majority wanted to back Okonjo-Iweala, a group of Eastern European and Baltic nations was not as supportive, making the final decision drag longer than expected. According to one European source, seven member states wanted their backing for Yoo to be evident and recorded. On the other hand, another source stated choosing Okonjo-Iweala was "a clear signal to Africa and a sign of mutual trust."
On March 1st, 2021, Okonjo-Iweala was finally elected to replace the sixth Director-General Roberto Azevedo from Brazil. She is Nigeria’s first female finance minister and was also the World Bank’s development economist for many years. Now, she has become the first director-general from Africa and the first woman to lead the institution.
Unfortunately, she has joined the WTO at an extremely difficult time, with the world still facing the challenges of a pandemic, global economic slowdown, and free trade and globalization being at risk. She has also assumed office when the international community is adjusting to the new US administration led by President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.
During her time as Nigeria’s finance minister, Okonjo-Iweala pushed trade liberalization policies and worked drastically to reduce the country’s foreign debt burden. Moreover, she led the country’s economic team, which was responsible for the Obasanjo administration’s far-reaching economic and social reforms agenda.
One of the WTO’s priorities is to promote free trade among countries by lowering tariffs and other trade barriers through agreements negotiated and signed by most of the world’s trading nations. As the body that deals with the global rules of trade, the WTO also acts as a kind of referee for governments to address their trade disputes.
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