The United States has opposed the choice of a former Nigerian Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to head the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Equally important, the opposition by the US has reportedly prolonged the selection process which ought to have concluded on Wednesday.
This is contrary to widespread reports that she has been named WTO DG.
1st News had reported that Okonjo-Iweala had garnered the support of the European Union (EU). All 27 ambassadors of the powerful European bloc had thrown their weight behind the Nigerian for the WTO top job. In addition, Okonjo-Iweala had equally secured massive support among African countries. Specifically, she had secured around 80 votes or about half of the WTO’s members by mid-October.
Indeed, her endorsement by the EU ambassadors on Tuesday had made her almost certain to emerge WTO DG.
However, a meeting of the organization’s members held on Wednesday, October 28 stalled. The meeting was held to conclude the selection between Okonjo-Iweala and sole rival; South Korea’s Trade Minister, Yoo Myung-hee.
The impasse was attributed to the United States’ rejection of Okonjo-Iweala. This was confirmed by WTO spokesman, Keith Rockwell in a chat with reporters at its Geneva headquarters after the meeting.
“One delegation could not support the candidacy of Dr. Ngozi and said they would continue to support South Korean minister Yoo. That delegation was the United States of America,” Rockwell was quoted as saying.
The decision on who emerges WTO DG is taken based on consensus. Indeed, all 164 members of the WTO must agree on a particular candidate for the candidate to emerge winner.
Reports monitored in the international media indicate that the US’ opposition stems from its ongoing face-off with China. The Donald Trump administration prefers a candidate who will not be decidedly pro-China, even as it sees the South Korean Yoo as a better option in that mould.
The US and China have been involved in a massive tussle over the future of the WTO. Further, Nigeria is known to be a big ally of China which it has relied on for aid for capital projects. The US sees this as a stumbling block and a potential leverage for China’s domination of the WTO; should Okonjo-Iweala claim the top job.
The development echoes the reservations expressed by Trump towards the leadership of the World Trade Organization (WHO). Director-General of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, an Ethiopian, has been heavily criticized by Trump as being pro-China. Trump has lampooned his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, claiming that he has pandered to China. Further, he had announced the withdrawal of the US from the WHO as a result.
Ethiopia is also a heavy recipient of aid from China.
1st News reports that Okonjo-Iweala’s status as a dual citizen – she holds a Nigerian and American passport – has failed to sway the US.
In the same vein, Japan, a major ally of the United States, also has reservations over the US’ choice. Japan is concerned that the South Korean’s emergence as WTO DG may work against it in its many trade disputes with South Korea.
Consequently, Tokyo has thrown its weight behind Okonjo-Iweala; even as it has spoken out in favour of concluding the selection process with the Nigerian.
In spite of the opposition from the US, reports indicate that the two-time Nigerian Minister of Finance is confident of emerging the first female WTO DG.
Nikkei Asia quotes a spokesperson for Okonjo-Iweala’s campaign, who says she is “immensely humbled to receive the backing of the WTO’s selection committee” and “looks forward to the General Council on November 9 when the committee will recommend her appointment as Director-General.”
“A swift conclusion to the process will allow members to begin again to work, together, on the urgent challenges and priorities,” the campaign spokesperson said.