Nigeria: How U.S. Opposition Could Subject WTO to Vote for DG Choice

30 October 2020

The United States on Wednesday disrupted what was said to be a smooth coasting to victory for the former Minister of Finance of Nigeria, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the next Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

After the meeting of the General Council of WTO, the Council Chair, David Walker, was quoted to have said Okonjo-Iweala stands the best chance of getting a consensus of the membership as the next Director General.

However, at the meeting the United States opposed this position of appointing Okonjo-Iweala, who would have been the first female DG of the world trade body and the first from Africa.

According to the WTO spokesperson, Keith Rockwell, who briefed the press, "The candidate that had the best chance of attaining a consensus of the membership is Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria. Consultations on the way forward will start immediately," he quoted Walker as saying.

Earlier, key officials at Geneva, Switzerland, the headquarters of WTO, said the former Nigerian Minister of Finance has gained more support to overtake her rival, South Korea's Ms Yoo Myung-hee.

At least 106 countries, including France, Germany, and other top European countries threw their weight behind her appointment.

However, WTO Council said consultation continues for the way forward, ahead of the November 9 election date.

The appointment time coincides with the 25th anniversary of WTO.

But in a twist of events, the Deputy U.S. Trade Representative, Dennis Shea, opposed the consensus during the meeting of WTO delegates in Geneva.

Shea said the U.S. disagreed with the way in which the process was being carried out, according to the people.

Explaining further in a statement on the WTO Director General selection process, the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR), said the United States supports the selection of Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee as the next WTO Director-General.

"Minister Yoo is a bona fide trade expert who has distinguished herself during a 25-year career as a successful trade negotiator and trade policy maker. She has all the skills necessary to be an effective leader of the organization.

"This is a very difficult time for the WTO and international trade. There have been no multilateral tariff negotiations in 25 years, the dispute settlement system has gotten out of control, and too few members fulfil basic transparency obligations."

The WTO is badly in need of major reform. It must be led by someone with real, hands-on experience in the field, USTR said.

With this pronouncement, analysts said it may not be possible for the General Council to agree on a consensus candidate.

However, the 164 WTO member countries can consider the possibility of voting between the two candidates.

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