Setback for Okonjo-Iweala as US Wants WTO DG Race Reopened

WTO Suspends Conference Over New COVID-19 Variant

The United States through its trade representative, Robert Lighthizer, has opined that the process to appoint a new director-general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) needs to be reopened.

He made this position known during an interview on Wednesday, in which he stated that the WTO needs “someone with real experience in trade, not someone from the World Bank or a development person.”

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former Nigerian minister of finance and former managing director (MD) at the World Bank, is the leading candidate for World Trade Organization Director-General job. She received the backing of 110 out of 164 member countries, the Trump administration however, prefers her South Korean opponent, Yoo Myung Hee.

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The World Trade Organization Director General is appointed based on consensus by all member countries, hence the deadlock situation in the announcement of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the new head of the trade organization.

The two women are the remaining contenders in a race that started with eight candidates from Egypt, Kenya, the Republic of Korea, Mexico, Moldova, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, and the UK.

Lightizer reaffirmed the position of the Trump administration, stating that his principal, who is on his way out of the White House cannot be persuaded to change its mind on Okonjo-Iweala’s candidacy.

He said the WTO is “massively in need of reform”, especially its dispute-resolving appellate body, which according to him, has evolved into a body creating a common law of trade, “taking away benefits” that members had negotiated for ” and putting restraint on things that had been conceded”.

The appellate body of the WTO has been rendered inactive by Donald Trump’s administration vetoing the appointment of new judges.

“I think there’s a consensus developing at the WTO that we need the appellate body reform,” Lightizer said.

“We need to start negotiating again, we need to start making headway. So I’m glad you brought up the WTO, it’s been clearly a focus for us and to us its an organisation that started off as a good idea and basically isn’t functioning very well, but I think that can be sorted out also.”

James Bacchus, a former chairman of the WTO appellate body, as well as a former US trade negotiator, said: “Effective multilateral cooperation to lower barriers to trade is urgently needed to help jumpstart the global economy and recover from the pandemic.”

“That requires creative leadership from an honest broker in the role of director-general.”

It is being speculated that the Joe Biden administration might have a different stance on Iweala’s appointment, the US president- elect is yet to confirm his preferred candidate.

“We need to be aligned with the other democracies.. so that we can set the rules of the road instead of having China and others dictate outcomes, ” Biden had recently said on trade.

About Author

Victor Okeh is a graduate of Economics from Lagos State University. He is versatile in reporting business and economy, politics and finance, and entrepreneurship articles. He can be reached via – [email protected]

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