WTO DG: Why US supports Myung-hee not Okonjo-Iweala

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Dr Ngozi Okonjo Iweala
Dr Ngozi Okonjo Iweala

THE excitement following the emergence if Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former minister of finance in Nigeria, as the new director-general, DG, of the World Trade Organisation, WTO, has been dampened.

On Wednesday, October 28, in Geneva, after Okonjo-Iweala emerged by consensus reached by all the major blocs including the European Union, Japan and China, the Office of the United States Trade Representative issued a statement throwing spanner in the wheel of WTO announcing her as the new DG.

According to the statement, “The United States supports the selection of Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee as the next WTO Director-General.

The US explained: “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.”

But for the US position, Okonjo-Iweala would has made history by becoming the first female, first black and first African to be appointed the DG of WTO in its 25 years of existence.

Realnews gathered that WTO may resort to voting country by country to deciding who will be the next WTO director-general.

Should this happen, the bloc regional support which helped the candidacy of Okonjo-Iweala may be threatened as individual countries especially those who have eyes on the job or harbour resentment against her candidacy may or may not vote for her.

Okonjo-Iweala emerged as the consensus candidate for the WTO top job after advancing to the final round in the race with Yoo Myung-hee, trade minister in South Korea on Wednesday, October 6.

Realnews had earlier reported that the initial pool of eight candidates for the WTO’s top post,  which was whittled down over two rounds of consultations, had included three Africans from Nigeria, Egypt and Kenya. Her candidacy received a huge boost as the 27-member states of the European Union-backed her for the job over Myung-hee. She had also won the goodwill of a group of Caribbean and Pacific States as well as others from Asia. America, it was gathered, reluctantly supported her candidature at last over its preference for the South Korean.

President Muhammadu Buhari had earlier nominated Okonjo-Iweala for the WTO DG role with the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, later backing her nomination. The 55-member African Union overcame the initial protest from Egypt over late removal of Nigeria’s first nominee who was withdrawn by the Nigerian government to also officially support her candidacy.

Okonjo-Iweala deserved the success she got because she worked and campaigned strategically for it her intimidating curriculum vitae notwithstanding.

Okonjo-Iweala, 66, is an economist and development specialist now serving as board chair of Global Vaccine Alliance Gavi, will replace Roberto Azevedo, former DG, WTO, who stepped down a year earlier than expected in August.

– October 29, 2020 @  6:50 GMT /

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