The World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) bid to select a new leader has stalled after the US rejected Nigeria’s Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the Geneva-based global trade regulator’s next director-general.
General Council Chair David Walker of New Zealand, and his two co-facilitators in the selection process to choose the WTO’s next Director-General, told the organization’s members this week, that based on their consultations with all delegations, the “candidate best poised to attain consensus and become the 7th Director-General was Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria.”
“She clearly carried the largest support by Members in the final round and she clearly enjoyed broad support from Members from all levels of development and all geographic regions and has done so throughout the process. I am therefore submitting the name of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the candidate most likely to attract consensus and recommending her appointment by the General Council as the next Director-General of the WTO until 31 August 2024.”
If appointed, Okonjo-Iwaela, who has been endorsed by the European Union, would also be the body’s first African leader.
WASHINGTON SAYS NO!
But the assessment was challenged by the United States which said it would continue to support South Korean trade minister Yoo Myung-hee and would not back the candidacy of Okonjo-Iweala.
“One delegation could not support the candidacy of Dr Ngozi and said they would continue to support South Korean minister Yoo. That delegation was the US,” WTO spokesperson Keith Rockwell told reporters at the WTO’s headquarters in Geneva.
The office of the US Trade Representative issued a statement supporting the selection of Yoo, saying the intergovernmental organization “must be led by someone with real, hands-on experience in the field.”
“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.”
Despite American opposition, Okonjo-Iweala, who is the former finance minister of Nigeria and former second in command at the World Bank, has received overwhelming support from other member nations of the WTO.
The WTO has set a meeting to settle the matter for November 9, less than a week after US voters go to the polls for a presidential election.
It’s not immediately clear if the outcome of the vote would affect Washington’s position on Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment.
Happy for the success & continued progress of our @wto DG bid. Very humbled to be declared the candidate with the largest, broadest support among members & most likely to attract consensus. We move on to the next step on Nov 9, despite hiccups. We're keeping the positivity going!
— Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (@NOIweala) October 29, 2020
Rockwell said there was likely to be “frenzied activity” before the November 9 meeting to secure the required consensus.
Many members such as China and the US had declined to name their preference publicly though some African, Caribbean and other states had voiced support for Okonjo-Iweala.
The WTO leadership void was created after outgoing WTO chief Azevedo stepped down a year early in August. The WTO is being steered by four deputies.