WTO D.G: Why US is against Okonjo-Iweala’s candidacy

October 29, 2020
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Facts are beginning to emerge on why the United States of America under the Donald Trump administration is opposed to the selection of former Nigerian finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, as the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Recall that the US had backed Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee, while China, US main rival backed Nigeria’s Okonjo-Iweala who eventually emerged winner of the top job.

In a statement by the US, it said Yoo Myung-hee is “a bona fide trade expert who has distinguished herself during a 25-year career as a successful trade negotiator and trade policy maker.

Although the U.S. did not mention Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala, it said “The WTO is badly in need of major reform. It must be led by someone with real, hands-on experience in the field.”

The Trump administration has already paralysed the WTO’s role as global arbiter on trade by blocking appointments to its appeals panel.

Now it is threatening to render it leaderless for weeks or months to come.

The WTO itself has called a meeting for Nov. 9, less than a week after the U.S. election, by which time it hopes to have secured full backing for Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

The decision needs to be approved by consensus, however, meaning any of the 164 WTO members could block her appointment.

William Reinsch, a former senior Commerce Department official now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies said the U.S. move was likely to worsen trade tensions already running high within the WTO.

“It’s very Trumpian. They’re basically saying ‘We want to get our way and we’re willing to throw sand in the gears if we don’t get it’,” he said, adding that it was possibly a bid to gain concessions in other disputes.

A spokeswoman for Okonjo-Iweala said she was “immensely humbled” by the backing of the WTO’s selection committee and hoped for a swift conclusion to the process.

Next steps are uncertain but WTO’s Rockwell said there was likely to be “frenzied activity” before the Nov. 9 meeting to secure the required consensus.

The leadership void was created after outgoing WTO chief Azevedo stepped down a year early in August. The WTO is currently being steered by four deputies.

Okonjo-Iweala, a 66-year-old former finance minister and World Bank managing director, would face considerable challenges with rival economies bickering amid rising tensions and protectionism during a coronavirus-induced trade plunge.

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