GENEVA (Reuters) - The West African regional bloc ECOWAS is backing Nigeria’s candidate to head the World Trade Organization (WTO) and calls on other African countries to follow, a document showed on Monday, in a possible step towards uniting Africa behind her.
“The ECOWAS authority of heads of state and government...calls on other African countries as well as non-African countries to endorse her candidature,” the document, signed by Niger’s President and ECOWAS chairman Mahamadou Issoufou said, referring to Nigeria’s Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
It was dated June 19 but was not finalised until Monday.
Brazil’s Roberto Azevedo is stepping down as WTO head a year early at the end of August.
His 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.
There is broad support for an African candidate and a woman, since neither have headed the Geneva-based body in the past, sources following the process said. Supporters of Okonjo-Iweala, a former minister and World Bank managing director, vaunt her negotiating skills, including clinching a multi-billion dollar debt relief package for Nigeria.
Africa has previously struggled to unite behind one WTO candidate and this time has so far been no different.
The African Union (AU) was due to officially 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.
The latter found that Nigeria had broken AU rules by changing its submission, a document showed. An AU official declined to comment.
Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s spokeswoman said: “Dr. Ngozi’s goal is to earn the support of all African countries, and she’s humbled by the support she’s already received. There is time for most if not all of Africa to unite behind one candidate.”
Reporting by Emma Farge; Editing by Alex Richardson