Africa: Former U.S. Officials Call on Biden to Back WTO Selection for Okonjo-Iweala




A cross-section of former senior U.S. government officials, including a Nobel Laureate, along with academicians and civil society leaders, have written to President Biden in support of the election of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as Director-General of the World Trade Organization. Opposition from the Trump administration has stalled her selection which requires consensus according to WTO procedures. Here is the text of the letter that was delivered after Biden took office on January 20.

Dear President Biden,

Congratulations on your resounding victory in the recent election. We are confident that as you assume the mantle of responsibility for America’s security, economy and overall well-being that promising days are ahead for our country and specifically for all Americans.

You assume the Presidency with challenges and opportunities of historic proportions. We are pleased, however, that you have long been tested, prepared and poised for this moment. We are further comforted that you have selected a very competent team to support your cherished vision for our nation.

Among the many critical matters before you and your cabinet is the leadership of the World Trade Organization (WTO). It was no surprise to us that a stellar Nigerian-American, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo- Iweala, emerged as the consensus candidate for the position of Director-General of the WTO having won the support of the overwhelming majority of member nations, including America’s leading trading partners in the European Union.

The arbitrary opposition to her candidacy from the outgoing Trump Administration in October 2020 continues to baffle trade leaders and experts around the world. In round after round of competition, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala won against her competitor for the post, South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee.

The Trump Administration’s contentious practice of pitting America against multilateral alliances was in full display in this WTO race.

We write to respectfully encourage you to support the candidacy of the eminently qualified Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as she seeks to become the next Director-General of the WTO.

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is a dynamic woman of vision who can guide the WTO through its era of reform. She possesses a very rare combination of leadership and experience that is deeply grounded in international trade, finance, economics and diplomacy. Her selection, as the first American and woman of color to serve as the WTO’s director-general will send a clear message of inclusion to the rest of the world.

Her specific qualifications:

  • As an economist with degrees from both Harvard University and MIT, she has been sure-footed throughout her career in articulating a compelling, nuanced vision for the future of global trade in goods and services and the institutions that support it.
  • She is a consummate diplomat seasoned in building coalitions. For example, she helped negotiate a politically delicate multilateral replenishment — on the order of $49 billion — for the International Development Association, the World Bank’s lending arm for the poorest nations.
  • As a dual citizen of the United States and Nigeria, she has established herself as a highly respected authority in both nations, especially on issues related to global development. During her meteoric rise through the World Bank ranks to the position of Managing Director, she gained invaluable experience in managing the complex relationships between development issues, institutions, business interests and measurable outcomes.
  • This experience, together with her recently completed five-year tenure as board chair of GAVI— the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization— perfectly position her to help build pragmatic solutions for pandemic-related trade and intellectual property challenges across diverse global stakeholders.
  • She served two terms as finance and coordinating minister of the economy of Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy. In those roles, she was a reformer who led the effort to create a long-term macroeconomic stability fund from the nation’s oil revenues, and to ensure that bilateral debt restructuring was tied to internal economic reforms. Thus, she knows well how to take on entrenched interests.

We know Dr. Okonjo-Iweala and have found her to be a woman of integrity, an honest broker and a pragmatist who consistently delivers results. We believe strongly that she can be a transformative director-general, one who — with your support — will be embraced and effective within and beyond the WTO.

In sum, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is a uniquely qualified leader poised to help the WTO evolve and succeed for future generations. She is a leader who can also be relied on to pay due attention to the concerns many Americans have about global trade. She has what it takes to lead WTO reforms and take the organization into the future.

We deeply appreciate any consideration you may provide to her candidacy which is critically important for our nation and the world.

Former Senior U.S. Government Officials & Leaders in Academia, Civil Society and The Private Sector

The Hon. Mimi Alemayehou
    Former Executive Vice President, U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC)
    Former U.S. Executive Director of the African Development Bank
Ambassador Johnnie Carson
    Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Affairs
    Former U.S. Ambassador to Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Uganda
Teresa Clarke
    Chairman and CEO,
Ambassador Herman J. “Hank” Cohen
    Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs
    President & CEO, Cohen and Woods International
Akunna Cook
    Former U.S. Foreign Service Officer
    Founder and Principal, Drake Road Strategies
John G. Coumantaros
    Chairman of Flour Mills of Nigeria
    Chairman CEO of Southern Star Shipping Co Inc (New York)
    Founding Member of US Nigeria Council
Ambassador Ruth Davis
    Former U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Benin
    Former Director, U.S. Foreign Service Institute
    Former Director General, U.S. Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources
The Hon. Vivian Lowery Derryck
    Former Deputy Assistant Secretary (EEO and Civil Rights), U.S. Department of State
    Founder of the Bridges Institute
    Former Assistant Administrator for Africa, USAID
The Hon. Lauri Fitz-Pegado
    Former Assistant Secretary
    Director General, U.S. Foreign Commercial Service
Melvin Foote
    President & CEO, Constituency for Africa
The Hon. Tony Fratto
    Former Assistant Secretary, U.S. Treasury
    Former White House Deputy Press Secretary
    Managing Partner Hamilton Place Strategies
Ambassador Jendayi Frazer
    Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of African Affairs
    Former U.S. Ambassador to South Africa
    Former Special Assistant to the President & Senior Director for African Affairs, National Security Council
    President & CEO, 50 Ventures LLC
Ambassador Michelle D. Gavin
    Former U.S. Ambassador to Botswana
    Former Senior Director for Africa, National Security Council
Dr. Gloria Herndon
    Former Foreign Service Officer, U.S. Department of State
    Chair Corporate Board, National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO)
    CEO, GB Group
Cameron Hudson
    Former Director, African Affairs, National Security Council
    Senior Fellow, Atlantic Council Africa Center
Ambassador Makila James (ret.)
    Former Deputy Assistant Secretary, East Africa and The Sudans, U.S. Department of State
    Former U.S. Ambassador to The Kingdom of Swaziland
Ambassador (ret.) Howard F. Jeter
    Former U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria and Botswana
    Former Special Presidential Envoy to Liberia
Jeffrey Krilla
    Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State
Florie Liser
    Former Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Africa
    President and CEO of Corporate Council on Africa (CCA)
Clay Lowery
    Former Assistant Secretary, U.S. Treasury
    Former Director, International Finance, National Security Council
Ambassador (ret.) Terence P. McCulley
    Former U.S. Ambassador to Mali, Nigeria and Côte d’Ivoire
    Chairman, US-Nigeria Council for Food Security, Trade and Investment
Mora McLean
    President Emerita, Historian, and Program Strategist, The Africa-America Institute
    Former Chair, USTR Trade Advisory Committee on Africa
Cheryl Mills
    Former Counselor and Chief of Staff, Office of the Secretary, U.S. Department of State
    Former Deputy Counsel to the President, The White House
Todd Moss, PhD
    Former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State
Ambassador John Negroponte
    First Director, National Intelligence
    Former Ambassador to the United Nations
    Former Deputy Secretary of State
The Hon. Constance Berry Newman
    Former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs
    Chair of the African Renaissance and Diaspora Network
Thomas R. Nides
    Former Chief of Staff, Office of the United States Trade Representative
    Former Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources, U.S. Department of State
    Vice Chairman, Morgan Stanley
Bernadette Paolo
    Former Staff Director, U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Africa
    Co-founder & Former CEO, The Africa Society
Bobby J. Pittman
    Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Finance and Debt, U.S. Department of Treasury
    Special Assistant to the President & Senior Director for African Affairs, National Security Council, White House
Pearl Robinson
    Associate Professor, Tufts University
    Past President, The African Studies Association
Ambassador Robin Renee Sanders
    Former U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria
    Former U.S. Ambassador to ECOWAS
    Former U.S. Ambassador to Republic of Congo
    Former Africa Director, National Security Council
Jeannine B. Scott
    Chairman, Constituency for Africa (CFA)
    Principal, America to Africa Consulting (A2A)
    Former Alternate & Advisor to the U.S. ED at the African Development Bank
Timothy Shortley
    Former Director, African Affairs, National Security Council
    Chief Operating Officer, 50 Ventures, LLC
Ambassador John Simon
    Former Senior Director, National Security Council
    Former U.S. Ambassador to the African Union
    Managing Partner, Total Impact Capital
    Member, USTR Trade Advisory Committee for Africa
The Hon. Gayle Smith
    Former Administrator, USAID
    Former Special Assistant to the President & Senior Director for African Affairs, National Security Council
Joseph E. Stiglitz
    Former member and Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers
    University Professor, Columbia University
    Chief Economist, Roosevelt Institute
    Former Chief Economist of the World Bank
    Recipient of Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics, 2001
Rosa Whitaker
    Former Assistant United States Trade Representative for Africa
    President, The Whitaker Group

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