US backs Nigerian candidate in contest to lead WTO

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The US-Nigeria relations is expected to grow even stronger after the United States expressed its strong support for the Nigerian candidate in the contest to lead the World Trade Organization.

Former Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has attracted broad support from member countries in the race for Director-General, with US being the latest to throw her weight behind her candidature.

The endorsement paves the way for unanimous agreement on the post, which has remained vacant for months.

Former President Donald Trump’s administration had backed South Korean trade minister Yoo Myung-hee, preventing a consensus.

However, Yoo on Friday announced her withdrawal from the race.

The US Trade Representative then proceeded to issue a statement saying the administration respects her decision to pull out.

If it is approved, the appointment of Okonjo-Iweala will fill the top post of the global trade watch dog for the first time since last September, after the previous leader stepped down early.

The United State’s backing removes the final obstacle to Okonjo-Iweala’s bid to be the first woman and the first African to run the Geneva-based trade body.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Photo/Courtesy

Following United States’ backing of the 66-year-old Nigerian economist, WTO general council Chairman David Walker is expected to soon announce a meeting in Geneva, where the organization’s members will formally approve Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment to a four-year term as director-general.

The appointment of a new WTO chief will help the beleaguered organization to confront an array of internal crises and begin deliberating a more structured conversation of how to make 25-year-old WTO fit to govern the 21st century trading system.

Okonjo-Iweala previously served as Nigeria’s finance minister and has experience working at international governance bodies as a former managing director of the World Bank.

She was until recently a chair at the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization — a position that provided her with a unique perspective on how global trade can help facilitate the roll-out of vaccines and other critical tools needed to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who also has U.S. citizenship, has pledged to take a more active role as director-general and to act as a sounding board to try to find common ground among the trade body’s disparate membership.

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United States’ diplomatic relations with Nigeria dates back in the year 1960 just after Nigeria got its  independence from the United Kingdom.

Following the 1999 inauguration of a civilian president, the U.S.-Nigerian relationship began to improve, as did cooperation on foreign policy goals such as regional peacekeeping.

Nigeria is the largest economy and most populous country in Africa with an estimated population of more than 190 million, which is expected to grow to 400 million by 2050 and become the third most populous country in the world after China and India.

Although Nigeria’s economy has become more diversified, crude oil sales have continued to be the main source of export earnings and government revenues.

Despite persistent structural weaknesses such as a deficient transportation infrastructure, the Nigerian economy grew briskly for the decade ending in 2013.

The growth rate slowed in 2014, owing in large part to the fall in oil prices, and in 2016 and 2017 Nigeria experienced its first recession in over two decades before rebounding in 2018.

The gains from economic growth have been uneven; more than 60% of the population lives in poverty.

The United States is the largest foreign investor in Nigeria, with U.S. foreign direct investment concentrated largely in the petroleum/mining and wholesale trade sectors.

At $2.2 billion in 2017, Nigeria is the second largest U.S. export destination in Sub-Saharan Africa. The United States and Nigeria have a bilateral trade and investment framework agreement.

In 2017, the two-way trade in goods between the United States and Nigeria totaled over $9 billion. U.S. exports to Nigeria include wheat, vehicles, machinery, kerosene, lubricating oils, jet fuel, civilian aircraft, and plastics.

Nigerian exports to the United States included crude oil, cocoa, cashew nuts, and animal feed. Nigeria is eligible for preferential trade benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).

Nigeria and the United States belong to a number of the same international organizations, including the United Nations, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and World Trade Organization. Nigeria also is an observer to the Organization of American States.

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