WTO race: The United States slows the rise of the Nigerian candidate

Geneva (AFP)

The United States, alone against all, on Wednesday refused to support the nomination of Nigerian Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as head of the WTO, blocking her path to becoming the first woman and the first African to take the reins.

This decision plunges the World Trade Organization into greater uncertainty, while the institution whose decisions are usually taken by consensus, has been deprived of a leader since the departure of Brazilian Roberto Azevedo at the end of August, for family reasons.

Launched in early September, the process of selecting his successor was to be completed before November 7.

But the opposition of the United States to the Nigerian candidate, to whom they prefer the South Korean Yoo Myung-hee, hampers the procedure at a time when the United States is in the middle of the presidential campaign.

At a meeting in Geneva, “the United States said it supported Minister Yoo because of her 25 years of trade experience, and because she would be able to get to work soon. on day one. They said they couldn’t support Dr Ngozi, “WTO spokesperson Keith Rockwell told reporters.

From Washington, the services of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) confirmed later Wednesday support for the South Korean who has “all the skills required to run the organization effectively.”

A “troika” – made up of the Chairman of the General Council, the Chairman of the Dispute Settlement Body and the Chairman of the Trade Policy Review Body – oversees the process.

This troika, after consulting the members of the WTO, announced in Geneva on Wednesday that it had come to the conclusion that Ms. Ngozi is the candidate most likely to reach a consensus.

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“They said it had by far the most support (…) in all regions and regardless of the level of development of countries,” said Mr. Rockwell.

“27 delegations representing a larger number of countries” spoke at the meeting and “all expressed very strong support for the process and the outcome, except one”, he noted, adding: “This delegation was that of the United States “.

– November 9 –

WTO members will meet again on November 9 in Geneva, after the US election on November 3, to decide what to do next. In case of disagreement, a vote is possible but the WTO has never resorted to it.

“A rapid conclusion to this process will allow member states to resume working together on urgent challenges and priorities,” said a spokesperson for the candidate, in a response that made no mention of the United States.

In 1999, due to a disagreement among member countries, the mandate was divided into two years, of three years each, for the two candidates.

Former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Finance of Nigeria, but also ex-number two of the World Bank, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, 66, could become the first woman and the first African to lead the organization in charge of liberalizing world trade .

There is no principle of geographic rotation, but the regulation provides that in the event of candidates considered equally deserving, countries must in particular take into account “the opportunity to reflect the diversity of WTO Members in successive designations. as Director General “.

The candidate who wins will succeed Roberto Azevedo, who left the WTO a year earlier than expected. This departure took place in the midst of the global economic slump, leaving the institution in crisis.

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In addition to the economic crisis, the next head of the institution will have to face the crisis of confidence in multilateralism and in the merits of the liberalization of world trade, all against the backdrop of a trade war between the two leading world economic powers, the China and the United States.

“It is a very difficult time for the WTO and international trade,” admitted USTR, stressing that the organization was in critical need of “major reforms”. “It must be led by a person who has real field experience”.

In mid-October, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said he wanted to give himself two priorities to demonstrate that the WTO is essential.

It aims to present an agreement on fisheries subsidies to the organization’s Ministerial Conference, scheduled for mid-2021, which would prove that the WTO can still produce multilateral advances. The other priority is to rebuild the dispute settlement body – the WTO tribunal – torpedoed by the Trump administration and brain dead.

“I am the candidate for reform,” she assured.

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