Despite US opposition, Okonjo-Iweala likely to emerge WTO DG

WITH a habit of opposing the nomination of Nigerians into international organisations, the United States of America may be making itself an enemy of Africa’s largest economy and biggest black nation in the world.

On Wednesday, the US opposed  the emergence of Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as director General of World Trade Organisation after she defeated her South Korean opponent, Yoo Myung-hee in a vote even though the former acquired US citizenship in 2019.

However, after the meeting, WTO spokesperson Keith Rockwell summed up the announcement by GC Chair Walker: “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 fwd will start immediately”, he said.

A key group of World Trade Organisation (WTO) ambassadors early in the day proposed Okonjo-Iweala to lead the organisation, trade sources told Reuters News Agency a move which cleared a path for her to become the first woman and African to head the global watchdog in its 25-year history.

Although she started the race late, Okonjo-Iweala was endorsed by ECOWAS and as other African candidates fell out,  he became a consensus candidate of the African Union and later adopted by the European Union.

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It was thought that at a meeting scheduled for 3pm, WTO would make the formal announcement of her election.

At the meeting, however, the United States said it won’t back the appointment. In a last-ditch move to stall the process, the United States WTO representative Dennis Shea took to the floor to insist that South Korea’s candidate remained a contender and that Washington will not recognise Okonjo-Iweala as the consensus candidate for appointment as director-general.

In response to this, the General Counsel has postponed its announcement of the new Director-General until a further meeting, which is scheduled for 9 November; after the US presidential elections.

Shea told the meeting that the US could not support a consensus decision to appoint Okonjo-Iweala and since all WTO decisions are taken by a consensus of its 164 members, the US move will act as a veto that disrupts the process.

Sources told Bloomberg that the US disagreed with the way in which the process was being carried out.

Also, WTO General Council Chair David Walker while reporting on the results of the consultations to appoint the next #WTODG said members would prepare the way forward in the selection process.

If it’s not possible for the general council to agree on a consensus candidate, WTO members can consider the possibility of recourse to a vote as a last resort by a procedure to be determined at that time. Such a development would be unprecedented for the WTO.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has pushed for South Korea’s candidate, Yoo Myung-hee, even though Okonjo-Iweala gained U.S. citizenship in 2019.

Sources close to Lighthizer say he views Okonjo-Iweala as being too close to pro-trade internationalists in Washington like Robert Zoellick, a former US trade representative who worked with Okonjo-Iweala when he was president of the World Bank.

Further action on who becomes the successor to Roberto Azevedo who in May announced his decision to step down from the 25-year-old WTO at the end of August, a year before his term ends has been put on hold.

Okonjo-Iweala, 66, twice served as Nigeria’s finance minister and has experience working at international governance bodies as a former managing director of the World Bank and as a chair at the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization.

It would be recalled that the US similarly opposed the re-election of Dr Akinwumi Adesina as president of African Development Bank earlier in the year.


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