Last week, EU ambassadors reached a consensus on supporting the Nigerian candidate Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the next Director-General of the World Trade Organization. The race takes on additional importance in the current international situation, where the paralysis of the WTO Appellate Body and extensive disruptions to global supply chains are undermining the multilateral rules-based system.
Furthermore, in the context of trade negotiations between the EU and African entities, the terms set out in the negotiating mandate for the EPA between the EU and West Africa cannot be overlooked. Nigeria, the largest African economy, has not yet signed the agreement, thereby blocking its provisional application.
On 11 November 2020, Portuguese Member of the European Parliament (MEP), Pedro Silva Pereira of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats sent a written parliamentary question to the European Commission. MEP Silva Pereira enquired “how can the Nigerian candidate, if confirmed, establish a new dynamic for regional integration, and create prospects for a change of national position with regard to the EU-West Africa EPA?” and “what specific steps has the Commission taken with the Government of Nigeria in order to facilitate the ratification of the EPA between the EU and West Africa?”
On 21 December, Executive Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis (An Economy that Works for People), responded on behalf of the European Commission. In his answer he reported that “at the Ministerial Meeting between Nigeria and the European Union (EU) of 18 November 2020, the first to take place since 2016, both sides welcomed Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala being the candidate recommended for the appointment as Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO)”.
Executive Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis stated that “the EU congratulated Nigeria for nominating a strong candidate that found the support of the majority of the WTO members” and “Nigeria expressed its appreciation to the EU for its support” and “the EU hopes that the appointment will follow soon”. He explained that “the Commission will use this opportunity to engage with Nigeria on strengthening the multilateral trading system” and “at the Ministerial Meeting, both Nigeria and the EU reaffirmed their support for the modernization of the WTO to preserve and strengthen the multilateral rules-based order”.
Executive Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis also clarified that “both Nigeria and the EU also noted the importance of continental and regional economic integration” and “the EU noted that its trade arrangements in Africa at the regional level contribute towards the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA)”.
He also said that “it is of concern that Nigeria has recently erected multiple new trade barriers in its bilateral trade relations and especially in its relationship with neighbouring countries in West Africa” and “although Nigeria signed the AfCFTA Agreement in 2019, and ratified it on 11 November 2020, there seems to be no change in the country’s position with regard to the EU-West Africa Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA)”.
Finally, Executive Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis declared that “the Commission remains in close contact with Nigeria on trade matters and has taken note of Nigeria’s position on the EPA” and “the Commission will work towards a new and positive agenda with Nigeria over the coming years, focusing on issues of mutual interest, such as sustainable investment and job creation”.
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