FORMER Finance Minister Mrs. Ngozi Okojo-Iweala will eventually be confirmed as World Trade Organisation (WTO) Director-General, despite the United States (U.S.) opposition, the Federal Government said on Wednesday.
Senior Special Assistant to the President on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Princess Adejoke Orelope-Adefulire in a message congratulated Dr. Okonjo-Iweala over her impending emergence as head of the global trade organisation.
The United States is blocking Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment despite winning the overwhelming backing of the body’s 164 members.
The former minister has moved a step closer to becoming the first woman and the first African Director-General of the global trade watchdog after securing the support of a key group of trade ambassadors in Geneva.
Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Dennis Shea, during a meeting of WTO delegates in Geneva, said the U.S. could not support a consensus decision to appoint Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala, according to three officials who monitored the proceedings.
Shea said the U.S. disagreed with the way in which the process was being carried out.
A selection panel of three WTO trade ministers found that Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala had far more support than her South Korean rival, Yoo Myung-hee.
The former World Bank Managing Director was backed by countries in the Caribbean, Africa, the European Union, China, Japan and Australia.
An original list of eight candidates, which included UK’s Liam Fox, has been whittled down to a final two since the summer.
By tradition, the WTO chooses its director-general by consensus, with all 164 members having to approve a candidate.
But the U.S. has been unhappy with the way the WTO has operated for some time, objecting to China’s designation as a developing country and blocking the appointment of new judges to the organisation’s appeals body.
Sources said it was unclear whether Washington’s opposition to Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala was a deliberate attempt to sabotage an organisation much-criticised by President Donald Trump.
A WTO spokesman said her candidacy would be put to a meeting of the body’s governing general council on November 9, adding that there was likely to be “frenzied activity” in the meantime to secure consensus.
In the event that Washington maintains its opposition to Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala, the WTO’s Constitution provides for a vote, although every previous director-general in the organisation’s 25-year history has been appointed by consensus and trade experts said life would be difficult if an appointment was made against the wishes of the US.
Mrs. Orelope-Adfulire was optimistic that Okonjo-Iweala’s emergence would help improve Africa’s trade position with the rest of the world.
The presidential aide noted that as an expert on the use of trade, economics and governance as tools of development, Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala as WTO D-G “will be in a position to help in the actualisation of 2030 agenda of leaving no one behind”, leveraging her new office.
Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) National Chairman Prince Uche Secondus, former Anambra State Governor Peter Obi, and Ohanaeze Ndigbo Youth Council Worldwide lauded Dr. Okonjo-Iweala for crossing the first hurdle.
In a message from his media office, Secondus said Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s victory in the highly-contested global position was rewarding and that it mirrored that a greater tomorrow awaited the country.
He described her victory as a reward for hard work and commitment to excellence as she demonstrated in all the positions she held nationally and internationally.
The PDP chair said: “This savoury news coming at this time that the nation is witnessing her worse due to leadership failure is relieving and hope rising that a greater tomorrow awaits this land.”
He lauded Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s victory coming shortly after Dr. Akinwumi Adesina’s re-election as the African Development Bank (AfDB) President.
The PDP chair also hailed President Muhammadu Buhari for putting aside political sentiments in backing both Adesina and Okonjo-Iweala for the exalted international jobs.
Obi said Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala was very deserving of the position, given her profile as one of the great female players in the world in the field of development economics and finance.
He said former minister’s track record, from the World Bank through to governance in Nigeria, as well as her being a top player in several global finance bodies, ensured that nobody else would have been a better choice for the WTO job.
He commended WTO member nations for putting merit far above every other consideration in selecting the director-general.
Ohanaeze Ndigbo Youth Council Worldwide also described her emergence as the answered prayers of Nigerians for an African to occupy the exalted position for the first time in history.
The President-General and Secretary-General of the youth group, Okechukwu Isiguzoro and Okwu Nnabuike said they were happy that Okonjo-Iweala broke the record.
According to them, the Federal Government’s backing for her candidature affirmed President Muhammadu Buhari’s loves for the Igbo.