US holds up Ngozi Okonjo Iweala’s appointment as WTO director general

Washington says it will not recognise Okonjo-Iweala as the consensus candidate for appointment as director general of the World Trade Organization

Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was slated to be the new director general of the World Trade Organization (WTO). She will be the first woman, and the first African, to lead the institution. But there was an unexpected glitch in the process.

In a last-ditch move, the United States representative at the WTO took to the floor to insist that South Korea’s candidate remain a contender and say that Washington will not recognise Okonjo-Iweala as the consensus candidate for appointment as director general.

In response to this, the General Counsel of the WTO has postponed its announcement of the new director general until a further meeting, which is scheduled for 9 November, after the US presidential election.

Boost for Africa

A panel at the WTO recommended Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala for the director general’s position today, Wednesday (28 October.

An announcement that she was the new director general of the World Trade Organization would have been a tremendous boost for Africa. The panel recommendaton lines her up for one of the toughest jobs in the international system.

Sources in Geneva say that she had won the support from the vast majority of members, including the European Union, Japan and China, but not the United States, according to the Africa Report.

She will have to lead the charge for a revival of multilateralism in the negotiating chambers of the WTO and for a better deal for developing economies. She will also have to oversee the practical matter of how reforming trade and patent rules can allow the distribution of life-saving vaccines and therapeutics as the second wave of the novel coronavirus pandemic rips across the world.

Reforms stymied

As the first woman and African to lead the trade body, Okonjo-Iweala has shattered a couple of ceilings at the same time.

She also has a chance to put Africa’s plans to build the world’s biggest free trade area on the top table, pointing to the productive and market opportunities on the continent.

At the same time, she has won the race for the job from hell. That much was clear when her predecessor – Brazil’s Robert Azevêdo – quit the post early after years of frustration with the logjams in negotiation on reforming the WTO.

The negotiations have been made harder still by the eruption of a trade war between the US and China, besides sporadic outbreaks of economic nationalism across the globe.

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The Africa Report
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