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ECOWAS backs Nigeria’s candidate for the WTO top job

ECOWAS is calling on African countries to support the candidacy of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala for leadership of the World Trade Organization. The step could unite Africa behind her

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is calling on African countries to support the candidacy of Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala for the leadership of the World Trade Organization (WTO), in a possible step towards uniting Africa behind her.

ECOWAS says it is backing Nigeria’s candidate to land the top job with the WTO.

“The ECOWAS authority of heads of state and government … calls on other African countries as well as non-African countries to endorse [Okonjo-Iweala’s] candidature,” said the document, signed by President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger who is also the chairman of ECOWAS.

There is broad support for an African candidate and a woman because neither has led the Geneva-based body in the past, sources following the process said.

Africa has previously struggled to unite behind one WTO candidate and so far, this time has been no different.

The African Union (AU) was due officially to endorse one of three pre-selected candidates from Benin, Egypt and Nigeria.

But the process was disrupted by COVID-19 measures and Nigeria swapped its candidate this month, prompting Egypt to protest to the AU, sources following the process said.

An investigation found that Nigeria had broken AU rules by changing its submission, a document showed. An AU official declined to comment.

Rising protectionism

The current director general of the World Trade Organization, Roberto Azevêdo of Brazil, is stepping down a year early at the end of August.

Azevêdo’s successor will need to steer reforms and negotiations in the face of rising protectionism, a deep recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and growing trade tensions, notably between the United States and China.

Dr Okonjo-Iweala is a Nigerian-born economist and international development expert. She sits on the boards of Standard Chartered Bank, Twitter, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) and the African Risk Capacity (ARC). 

She previously had a 25-year career as a development economist at the World Bank, scaling the ranks to the position of deputy managing director in charge of operations (2007-2011). She also served two terms as Nigeria’s finance minister (2003-2006 and 2011-2015) under Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and  Goodluck Jonathan.

The WTO has publicised the process for the appointment with the opening and closing dates for nominations set as 8 June and 8 July 2020 respectively.

Joseph Appiah-Dolphyne

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