The WTO has pushed back the date for a meeting, where members are expected to reach a decision on a new Director-General after the United States opposed the candidacy of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the more popular of the two female contestants.
The WTO had earlier scheduled the meeting for next week.
However, a communication seen by AFP showed that the meeting has been deferred indefinitely.
“It has come to my attention that for reasons including the health situation and current events, delegations will not be in a position to take a formal decision on 9 November,” the head of the selection committee told member states.
“I am therefore postponing this meeting until further notice during which period I will continue to undertake consultations with delegations,” he added.
The US is backing South Korea’s trade minister, Yoo Myung-hee, to become the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation because she is a “trade expert”.
However, the European Union and WTO’s ambassadors backed Okonjo-Iweala for the position.
US Trade Representative, Robert Lighthizer, while giving reasons for opposing Okonjo-Iweala, who gained American citizenship in 2019, said WTO needs “someone with real, hands-on experience in the field”.
She said, “I am a development economist and you cannot do that without looking at trade. Trade is a central part of development. So, I have been doing it. My whole career at the World Bank, I was working on trade policy reform in middle and low-income countries at the bank.
“As finance minister, the customs service in my country reported to me. And that is all about trade facilitation. I helped my country’s negotiation with my trade minister on the ECOWAS common external tariffs. I don’t know how much more trade you can have than that.
“So those who say I don’t have trade, they are mistaken. I think the qualities I have are even better, because I combine development economics with trade knowledge, along with finance, and you need those combinations of skills to lead the WTO. I think I have the skills that are needed. I am a trade person.”
Okonjo-Iweala, who also serves on Twitter’s board of directors, as chair of the GAVI vaccine alliance and as a special envoy for the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 fight, saw her candidacy get another boost this week when the EU threw its weight behind her.
If she eventually gets a majority backing, she would be the first woman and the first African to lead the global trade body in its 25-year history.