WTO: US in fresh plot against Okonjo-Iweala’s emergence as DG

December 19, 2020
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The United States under the Donald Trump administration has continued its opposition to Nigeria’s former minister of finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonko- Iweala as the new Director-General of the World Trade Organisation, WTO despite the overwhelming support from other countries.

Okonjo-Iweala, a former Managing Director of the World Bank, had secured the support of 110 out of 164 member countries to succeed Roberto Azevêdo who resigned as the DG of WTO in May.

Since WTO operates on the basis of consensus, all its members must agree before a final decision is made.

Iweala and Yoo Myung Hee, South Korea’s trade minister, are the two candidates still in contest for the WTO top job

The WTO had postponed the general council meeting to consider the appointment of a new DG till further notice because of failure of members to reach consensus at its last meeting.

In what is believed to be a fresh plot against the former Nigeria minister’s emergence as the DG of WTO, the US is now suggesting a restart of the nearly completed process of selection.

Speaking on the new position of the US,  President, Donald Trump’s trade chief, Robert Lighthizer, said in an interview with the BBC News said the WTO needs “someone with real experience in trade, not someone from the World Bank or a development person,” an obvious attack on the qualification of Okonjo-Iweala for the position.

Lightizer insists that the Trump administration cannot support Iweala in its remaining weeks in office.

According to him, the WTO is “massively in need of reform”, especially its dispute-resolving appellate body, which according to him, has evolved into a body creating a common law of trade, “taking away benefits” that members had negotiated for and putting restraint on things that had been conceded.”

“I think there’s a consensus developing at the WTO that we need the appellate body reform. We need to start negotiating again, we need to start making headway. So I’m glad you brought up the WTO, it’s been clearly a focus for us and to us it’s an organisation that started off as a good idea and basically isn’t functioning very well, but I think that can be sorted out also,” Lightizer said.

It is also not yet certain if the incoming US administration of Joe Biden will support the candidacy of Iweala for the position.

“We need to be aligned with the other democracies.. so that we can set the rules of the road instead of having China and others dictate outcomes,” Biden was quoted to have  said on trade recently.

Simon Lester, a WTO expert at the Cato Institute in Washington said the Biden administration should support Iweala while insisting on wide ranging reforms of the organization.

Lester said this would be the fastest way to appoint a new WTO DG, because “opening up the selection process could be messy and complicated, and would lead to delays”.

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