Nigeria’s former finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is all but confirmed as the new Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO). On Wednesday, Oct. 28, 163 of the 164 members of the organization endorsed her as the right person to lead it. The troika of ambassadors heading its three main branches determined after four months of consultations with member states that Okonjo-Iweala was the most likely to obtain the consensus needed to take the top job, WTO spokesperson, Keith Rockwell, told journalists.
The initial pool of eight candidates for the WTO’s top post had been whittled down to just two over two previous rounds of consultations with only Okonjo-Iweala and South Korea’s trade minister Yoo Myung-hee left in the race. However, on Wednesday the United States opposed the candidacy of Okonjo-Iweala-Iweala, instead backing Yoo. America’s position casts doubt on whether she can obtain the necessary full backing from member states.
Rockwell said that 27 delegates had taken the floor during Wednesday’s meeting. “One delegation could not support the candidacy of Dr. Nogzi and said they would continue (supporting) South Korean Minister Yoo. That delegation was the United States of America.” He stressed that Wednesday’s meeting “was never intended to make a final decision on our next DG (director-general). That decision can only be taken by the General Council. Consultations on the way foward will start immediately.”
In a statement by the office of the US Trade Representative, America cited lack of experience and procedural issues for its stance. The statement reads, “The Office of the United States Trade Representative issued the following statement today on the selection of the next World Trade Organisation Director-General. 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 fulfill 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.”
Rockwell said that the United States’ strong opposition did not mean that Okonjo-Iweala could not be appointed but agreed Washington has a considerable influence over the final decision to be taken by the WTO’s General Council on November 9. He expected a “frenzied activity” in the few days ahead to secure a consensus for Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment.
We at Peoples Daily are not surprised by the United States’ opposition to Okonjo becoming the WTO director general. To Washington, everything Nigerian is anathema. We recall its opposition to a second term for Dr. Akinwumi Adesina as the president of the African Development Bank (AfDB). It took the solid vote of the entire African continent to save Adesina’s job. As to Washington’s reason that Okonjo-Iweala lacks the “hands-on experience” in trade matters to take the WTO DG job, nothing can be farther from the truth. And what is the truth? It is that the United States wants its ally in the South Atlantic to fight a proxy trade war against China, the world’s second largest economy.
As Rockwell has said, the following days hold out a window of opportunity for Nigeria to do the necessary consultations for Okonjo-Iweala to get the job. It has started well, getting last week the European Union’s endorsement of its candidate. That of the continent of Africa already is a done deal. Once again, America will have to stew in its own juices.