Ngozi promises to make Covid-19 vaccine available to all nations if elected WTO director-general


NIGERIA'S former finance minister Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has stepped up her campaign to become the next director-general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) by pledging that if she gets elected she will ensure that a coronavirus vaccine is made available to all nations.


Dr Okonjo-Iweala, 65, is one of seven candidates seeking to be named as the next WTO boss later this month, who have all recently made their case before the general assembly. Rather than an election, the WTO selection procedure relies on finding consensus, with candidates gradually being eliminated in turn.


Facing Dr Okonjo-Iweala is South Korea’s trade minister Yoo Myung-Hee, 53, who is a negotiator, strategist and international trade expert and the UK's former international trade and defence secretary Dr Liam Fox. Also in the race are Mexican economist Jesús Seade Kuri, Kenya’s Amina Mohamed, Egyptian diplomat Hamid Mamdouh and former Moldovan foreign minister Tudor Ulianovschi.


Speaking yesterday at a reception held in her honour by the Nigerian permanent mission to the United Nations (UN) in Geneva, Dr Okonjo-Iweala said she will make the fight against Covid-19 a central plank of her tenure. At the event, the mission used the occasion to appeal for global support for her candidacy.


Dr Okonjo-Iweala said: “When vaccines and therapeutic medicine are produced, the WTO should be able to facilitate accessibility and equitable distribution to all member nations. Trade has to be a strong recovery out of the global recession; that makes a multilateral trading system part of the solution.


“There is need for WTO to collaborate with finance agencies to address these issues otherwise it remains an impediment to multilateral trading system. If elected as director-general, you have an ally, who is interested in addressing these challenges.”  


Currently the chair of Board of Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, Dr Okonjo-Iweala said her experience with the body was an advantage that would be useful as countries seek to produce vaccines. In April, Dr Okonjo-Iweala was appointed as a special envoy for the newly inaugurated Access to Covid-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator by the World Health Organisation.


Adebayo Adeniyi, Nigeria's minister for trade and investment, represented by Abdulhamid Adamu, Charge d’ Affairs, Nigerian Trade Office in Geneva, described the ex-minster as a global icon with proven leadership skills. He eulogized her skills in spearheading negotiations and reforms, enhancing transparency of government accounts, and strengthening institutions against corruption.


Baba Madugu, Nigeria’s Ambassador to Switzerland and Leopold Samba of the Central African Republic, among others urged all countries to support Dr Okonjo-Iweala. Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, said a vote for Dr Okonjo-Iweala is a step in the right direction.