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US blocks appointment of Nigerian woman to head WTO

Yoo Myung-hee

The United States is blocking the appointment of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former Nigerian finance minister and World Bank official, as the next director general of the World Trade Organization despite the former Nigerian finance minister winning the overwhelming backing of the WTO’s 164 members, The Guardian reported.

Ngozi had moved a step closer to becoming the first woman and the first African to be director of the global trade watchdog after securing the support of a key group of trade ambassadors in Geneva, The Guardian said. Soundings taken by a selection panel of three WTO trade ministers found Okonjo-Iweala had far more support than her South Korean rival, Yoo Myung-hee.

Sources said Okonjo-Iweala was backed by countries in the Caribbean, Africa, the European Union, China, Japan and Australia.

However, her candidacy failed to win the support of Washington, which raised last-minute objections to the process by which the new director general was being picked.

By tradition, the WTO chooses its director general by consensus, with all 164 members having to approve a candidate.

WTO General Council Chair Ambassador David Walker informed members that Okonjo-Iweala has the best chance of attracting consensus to be the new director-general of the 164-member multilateral trade body, and said he is convening a special General Council meeting on November 9 for members to take a formal decision on his recommendation, Washington Trade Daily said.

Taking the floor after the chair’s announcement, U.S. Deputy Trade Representative and envoy to the WTO Ambassador Dennis Shea cast aspersions on the announcement made by the GC chair along with the two facilitators, WTD said.

The United States, said Shea, strongly supports the candidature of Korean trade minister Yoo Myung-hee from South Korea and “takes note that Ms. Yoo remains the candidate for the director general position.” Shea added, “It is our understanding that Ms. Yoo enjoys breadth of support across the WTO membership,” people present at the meeting told WTD.

“The decision stunned many in Washington’s trade community, even after four years of the U.S. administration’s disruptive trade policies,” Politico reported.

“I have to say I’m surprised and disappointed in the U.S. reaction,” Bill Reinsch, a senior trade adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Politico. “I had hoped [U.S. Trade Representative Robert] Lighthizer would have more respect for the institution than that.”

Late Wednesday, Lighthizer issued a statement: “The United States supports the selection of Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee as the next WTO director-general. Minister Yoo is a bona fide trade expert who has distinguished herself during a 25-year career as a successful trade negotiator and trade policy maker. She has all the skills necessary to be an effective leader of the organization.

“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 fulfill 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.”

–The Hagstrom Report


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