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Nigeria’s pick to lead WTO hires lobby shop to rally support

Nigeria’s candidate to run the World Trade Organization has hired lobbying heavyweight Mercury Public Affairs to build international support for her bid.

Former Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala retained Mercury as of June 5, the day after the Nigerian government announced she would be running for the WTO’s director-general post. The firm is tasked with “building support for World Trade Organization candidacy with World Trade Organization member countries,” according to a newly disclosed lobbying filing.

Morris Reid, a partner in Mercury’s Washington and London offices, is registered to lobby on the account alongside Alex Walker, a director at the firm’s London office with experience in running British political campaigns. The contract amount has not been disclosed.

Mercury’s experience with Nigeria runs deep.

The firm provided campaign consulting services for Akinwumi Adesina ahead of his successful May 2015 run to lead the African Development Bank. At the time, Mercury charged Adesina’s campaign $200,000, plus a $50,000 “success fee.” Lobbying records indicate the fees were to be paid by Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Mercury lobbying filing from 2015

Mercury also represented Nigeria’s embassy from 2013 to 2015. Reid worked on both that account and Adesina’s campaign.

Okonjo-Iweala is one of four candidates for the post, alongside rivals from Egypt, Mexico and Moldova. Their names were thrown into the ring after WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo of Brazil resigned in May effective Aug. 31. His term had been scheduled to end in September 2021. 

Okonjo-Iweala, an economist, notably sits on the boards of Standard Chartered Bank, Twitter and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), which she chairs. Mercury’s lobbying filing for Okonjo-Iweala lists the alliance’s Washington address.

The candidates can expect intense scrutiny from the Donald Trump administration regarding their approach to handling China, which the US government accuses of abusing the international trade system with impunity.

“I think we need a director general that understands that an extremely large state-run economy cannot be disciplined under the current WTO rules,” US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said Wednesday. The United States, he added, will veto any candidates who have a “whiff of anti-Americanism” in their past.

Neither the United States nor the European Union have thrown their weight behind a candidate. But Phil Hogan, the EU’s trade policy chief, is exploring a run. The deadline for nominations is July 8.