WTO DG: Anxiety As US Threatens To Veto Okonjo-Iweala’s Choice

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By Shakirudeen Bankole

United States President Donald Trump’s refusal to endorse the candidacy of Nigeria’s former Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, as the first female Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) of African origin, is sending shockwaves and anxieties across the international community.

Okonjo-Iweala, a development expert and a former Managing Director of the  World Bank, inspite of earning broader  endorsements and preferences from more member countries of the WTO, against  South Korea’s Minister of Trade, Yoo Myung-hee, the United States has reportedly  decided to raise its veto against the her.

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The refusal of the United States to go along with the EU nations as well as other global powers including the BRICS States, Japan and China has lead to a seeming stalemate which would be tabled for deliberations and consideration on November 9.

Going by the WTO governance protocols, the confirmation of a substantive DG is through concurrence especially among the G-7 nations of the World.

Said a diplomat who is familiar with the workings: ” Any of the big powers can veto the process and in that case there might be a deadlock as we current have. There has been negotiations and discussions going forward.

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“There has t be give and take. This is not the first time this  is happening in the history of the organization.”

Recall that the United States has repeatedly expressed its disapproval of the organization’s working metrics especially its dispute settlement  system, accusing it of aiding and abetting China’s “economic aggression” in the world.

“Washington has already paralyzed the WTO’s role as global arbiter on trade by blocking appointments to its appeals panel. Now it threatens to render it leaderless for weeks or months to come,” Reuters wrote recently.

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“Three WTO ambassadors, the “troika” charged with finding a successor to Brazilian Roberto Azevedo, had decided that the former Nigerian finance minister should be the next chief as she had secured wide cross-regional backing.

“All of the delegations that expressed their views today expressed very strong support for the process, for the troika and for the outcome. Except for one,” WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell told reporters after the closed-door meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, specifying that it was the United States that took exception to Okonjo-Iweala’s choice.

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According to Rockwell, Washington continues to support South Korea’s current trade minister, Yoo Myung-hee, in terms of preference and choice to lead the WTO.

Rockwell further said that there was likely to be “frenzied activity” before the Nov. 9 meeting to secure the required consensus and aggregation of concurrence.

However, it is not immediately certain  if the outcome of the United States election would affect the U.S. position on Okonjo-Iweala’s choice. This is premised on the likelihood that either president Trump or former Vice President Joe Biden wins.

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Recall that some member nations,  including China and the United States, had refused to express their preferences openly prior to Tuesday’s consultations among the big nations which met up until 6.pm. Geneva time.

This was in-spite of the fact that many African, Caribbean and pacific  nations within the ACP group had openly voiced their support for Okonjo-Iweala just as the EU endorsed her publicly.

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It would be recalled  that a leadership vacuum was created following the early exit of outgoing WTO DG, Azevedo from Brazil.  Thus, the  WTO is currently being led by four deputies in accordance with the organization’s structural setting.

Okonjo-Iweala, 66, is a   former Nigerian finance minister and an erstwhile managing director at the World Bank. She is a development expert and an international finance strategist.  She also  chairs the Board of  GAVI global vaccine alliance.

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