Okonjo-Iweala May Dump WTO Job – Officials

  • Says no interest in Nigeria’s presidency

Speculations have hit the airwaves that Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is threatening to quit her position as Director General at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) just about seven months into her four-year tenure.

According to insider sources at the Geneva-based trade body, Nigeria’s former Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy is seemingly uncomfortable with the position of things and  may be muting the idea of throwing in the towel if there are no improvement on certain critical issues.

Reports said already growing frustrated with the organization’s internal workings, the WTO boss is seriously hoping that the needed headway can be found before things turn awry.

And giving credence to the speculation, Bloomberg said five trade officials, who declined to be identified, hinted that Okonjo-Iweala, having fully grasped the frustrating reality of the WTO’s historical inertia, is considering various options and quitting the top job remains one of them.

The news outlet quoted the unidentified officials as saying that Dr Okonjo-Iweala has repeatedly told ambassadors and staff that easily walking away from the job is a huge option, even as she hinted on her reluctance to purchase any furniture for the temporary Geneva home.

However, in a statement to Bloomberg News on speculation that she is seeking to run in Nigeria’s presidential election come 2023, Okonjo-Iweala, who refused to comment on her speculated threats to quit the WTO top job, denied any interest in running for the Nigerian presidency.

She described such speculation as “utterly ridiculous and not true”, adding: “I just got here. I am enjoying what I’m doing. It is a very exciting job and I am trying to have some successes here.”

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala began her tenure with a plan to score quick negotiating victories that she hoped would help reboot the dysfunctional Geneva-based trade body.

Observers note that her early departure would add yet another layer of chaos to an organization suffering from an existential crisis that may lead governments to conclude that WTO is not a credible forum for addressing their shared challenges.

Deep divisions and a lack of trust are not new for the WTO, which requires consensus agreement among all 164 members to finalize multilateral accords.

The WTO’s rigid negotiating structure and disparate interests of its diverse membership have precluded the organization from delivering anything substantial for the better part of the past decade.

Last year, Okonjo-Iweala’s predecessor – Roberto Azevedo – cited the lack of progress at the WTO as his primary reason for resigning from the organization a year before his tenure was scheduled to end.

The true test of Okonjo-Iweala’s leadership will come later in November, when she hosts the WTO’s 12th ministerial conference – a gathering of the organization’s highest decision-making body.

To date, WTO members have failed to make significant headway on the three priority areas Okonjo-Iweala identified for potential outcomes at the biennial meeting. These are: an agreement to curb harmful fishery subsidies; a pledge to reduce trade-distorting agricultural policies; and a framework to expand global trade in vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics. – Bloomberg and Vanguard News

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