Nigeria to push back on US rejection of WTO candidate

This file photo combo shows the candidates for the WTO Director-General selection process at the headquarters of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva, Switzerland, pictured from Wednesday to Friday, July 15 - 17, 2020, Yoo Myung-hee, of Korea, left and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, of Nigeria. The World Trade Organization says South Korea’s trade minister and a Harvard-trained former Nigerian finance minister have qualified as the two finalists to become the next director-general, ensuring a woman in the top job for the first time. WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell said Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020 that a selection committee found Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria and Yoo Myung-hee of South Korea qualified for the final round in a race expected to end in the coming weeks. (Martial Trezzini, Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP, File)

ABUJA (Reuters) – Nigeria will lobby for its candidate to head the World Trade Organization, the country’s foreign ministry said in reaction to her last-minute rejection by Washington that threw the regulator’s leadership selection process into confusion.

The United States on Wednesday spurned Nigerian former finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala hours after a high-powered WTO panel recommended her to lead the global trade watchdog, teeing her up to become its first African and first woman head.

“Nigeria will continue to engage relevant stakeholders to ensure that the lofty aspiration of her candidate to lead the World Trade Organization is realised,” the country’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Thursday evening.

However, a person involved in the leadership race cast doubt on Nigeria’s plans to bring pressure to bear on Washington.

“They can push in the sense that they can get on the phone, try to mobilise support, but is that going to change the view in Washington? I think not,” the person, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter, told Reuters.

The ministry said the WTO’s 164 member states were expected to adopt Okonjo-Iweala as the organization’s director-general by consensus, but the United States was the sole country to oppose her, flouting the organisation’s rules.

The U.S. Trade Representative’s office later released a statement officially backing the only other remaining candidate, South Korean trade minister Yoo Myung-hee, praising her as a successful trade negotiator with the skills needed to lead the trade body at a “very difficult time”.

Next steps are uncertain, but a WTO spokesman said there was likely to be “frenzied activity” before a Nov. 9 meeting, less than a week after the U.S. presidential election, to secure the required consensus from all 164 member states for Okonjo-Iweala.