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WTO DG: Why We Are Against Okonjo-Iweala, US Reveals

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Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala

The United States has said it is against the nomination of Nigeria’s former finance minister and erstwhile Managing Director at the World Bank, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) because the organization needs real hands on experience in the field.

The US has been critical of the WTO’s handling of global trade, and wants another woman, South Korea’s Yoo Myung-hee, saying she could reform the body.

In a statement opposing the Nigerian, the Office of the US Trade Representative, which advises President Donald Trump on trade policy, said the organisation “must be led by someone with real, hands-on experience in the field”.

The statement said Ms Yoo had “distinguished herself” as a trade expert and “has all the skills necessary to be an effective leader of the organisation”, the statement said.

It added: “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.”

President Trump has described the WTO as “horrible” and biased towards China, and some appointments to key roles in the organisation have already been blocked.

But Okonjo-Iweala insists she has enough experience on trade. Earlier this month she said that her broad experience in championing reform made her the right person to help put the WTO back on track. “I am a reform candidate and I think the WTO needs the reform credentials and skills now.”

On Wednesday, a WTO nominations committee recommended the group’s 164 members appoint her for the job.

But her appointment is now in doubt following US refusal to back her. Experts however, say she is likely to scale through in the end.

Reacting to her nomination on Wednesday, Okonjo-Iweala said she was “immensely humbled” to be nominated.

Earlier on Wednesday, after a WTO delegates meeting to discuss the appointment, spokesman Keith Rockwell said just one member country did not support Ms Okonjo-Iweala.

“All of the delegations that expressed their views today expressed very strong support for the process; for the outcome. Except for one,” he said.

In the meantime, the organisation has called a meeting for 9 November – after the US presidential election – to discuss the issue. US opposition does not mean the Nigerian cannot be appointed, but Washington could nevertheless wield considerable influence over the final decision.

Mr Rockwell told reporters there was likely to be “frenzied activity” to secure a consensus for Ms Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment. She has the support of the European Union.

The leadership void was created after outgoing WTO chief Roberto Azevedo stepped down a year early in August. The WTO is currently being steered by four deputies.

Ms Okonjo-Iweala, 66, served as her country’s first female finance and foreign minister and has a 25-year career behind her as a development economist at the World Bank..

She also serves on Twitter’s board of directors, as chair of the GAVI vaccine alliance and as a special envoy for the World Health Organisation’s Covid-19 fight.

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