FORMER finance minister Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala remains in pole position to be confirmed as the next director-general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) despite opposition to her assuming office from the US.
During the final round of voting by WTO delegates, Dr Okonjo-Iweala emerged victorious, securing 104 votes from the 164 member countries, piping South Korea’s trade minister Yoo Myung-hee. to the top job. However, the US said it supported the selection of Ms Yoo because she is a bona fide trade expert who has distinguished herself during a 25-year career as a successful trade negotiator and trade policy maker.
Under its selection procedure, the WTO works by trying to finding a consensus on electing a director-general but with the US refusing to along with a majority, there may now be a deciding vote on November 9. With China and the European Union backing Dr Okonjo-Iweala, US support suddenly became an issue as most of the global trading disputes are between the three blocs.
Now, on November 9, the WTO general council, which is its highest decision-making body is scheduled to ratify the report of its selection panel, which overwhelmingly identified Dr Okonjo-Iweala as the candidate preferred by most of the members of the group to head the organisation. It is not yet clear if the US will back down before then and avoid a divisive vote.
A US Trade Representative Office spokesman said: “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 fulfil 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.”
Many Nigerians likened the US opposition to that encountered by African Development Bank president Dr Akinwumi Adesina, who also faced intense hostility from Washington before his re-election. However, he was eventually elected, which has become a source of hope for many Nigerians hoping Dr Okonjo-Iweala becomes the first African and first female WTO director-general in its 25-year-old history.