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US Moves To Halt Okonjo-Iweala’s Emergence As WTO DG

The United States has moved to halt the emergence of Nigeria’s former Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, as the next Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Aledeh News had reported that the US was backing South Korea’s trade chief, Yoo Myung-hee, her only contender in the final phase of the race.

On Wednesday, the selection committee of the WTO endorsed Okonjo-Iweala, in her bid to become the first female DG of the organisation.

The panel of three senior WTO ambassadors told the Nigerian-American that she had a wide margin of support and was best poised to command a consensus from the organisation’s 164 members.

However, at a meeting of the General Council of the organisation on Wednesday, the US did not back Okonjo-Iweala. The decision needs to be approved by consensus, meaning any WTO member could block her appointment.

Despite being an American citizen, the US is said not to consider Okonjo-Iweala as being committed enough to the interests of the world power at the Geneva-based trade body.

“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,” WTO spokesman, Keith Rockwell, told reporters at the WTO’s headquarters in Geneva after the closed-door meeting.

The WTO has consequently set a meeting to settle the matter for November 9, less than a week after the US presidential election.

Rockwell said there would likely be “frenzied activity” before the November 9 meeting to secure the required consensus.

According to a journalist with Bloomberg, Bryce Baschuk, the US is “expected to dig its heels in & members may push a decision until 2021.”

Despite refusing support for Okonjo-Iweala, US has limited power to stop the Nigerian candidate’s emergence. Unlike the World Bank where the country has a larger voting power than other countries, WTO is run by the consensus of every member country.

“The WTO is run by its member governments. All major decisions are made by the membership as a whole,” the organisation says on its website.

“In this respect, the WTO is different from some other international organizations such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

“Where consensus is not possible, the WTO agreement allows for voting — a vote being won with a majority of the votes cast and on the basis of ‘one country, one vote’.”

Okonjo-Iweala twice served as Nigeria’s finance minister under the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo and also under the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan respectively.

She has experience working at international governance bodies as a former managing director of the World Bank and as a chair at the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI).

Okonjo-Iweala campaigned as a WTO outsider and a reformer who told Bloomberg she plans to bring a “fresh set of eyes” to a deeply dysfunctional organisation.

“I’m known as a strong reformer,“ she told the medium in an interview. “My whole career at the World Bank has been involved with reforms in countries that have been beneficial.”

On Monday, all 27 European Union (EU) governments agreed to support Okonjo-Iweala over her South Korean rival, Yoo Myung-hee.

Last week, the European Parliament also endorsed the Nigerian’s bid.

She also enjoys the support of the 55-member African Union.

The final winner between the Nigerian and Myung-hee will replace Brazil’s Roberto Azevedo who stepped down as WTO DG in August.

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