The World Trade Organisation (WTO) will not decide the prospect of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s ex-minister of finance, becoming its director-general on 9th November as previously planned.
The United States of America has refused to support Okonjo-Iweala for the position, backing instead the South Korean candidate Yoo Myung-hee who secured way fewer votes than Okonjo-Iweala’s 104 out of the total 164 votes.
According to WTO rules, the DG is ultimately chosen by consensus. All members have to endorse a new DG. But the November 9 meeting has been put off because there is no indication yet that the Donald Trump administration is ready to support Nigeria’s candidate.
“For reasons including the health situation and current events, delegations will not be in a position to take a formal decision on 9 November,” a WTO document seen by Reuters stated. The meeting had been suspended till further notice, it added.
Geneva, where the WTO is headquartered, imposed coronavirus-induced restrictions this week including a five-person limit on physical meetings. This is a further reason for not holding the talks apart from the deadlock. But it should be noted that the WTO has conducted several meetings remotely.
Sources say that the WTO is unwilling to ditch the consensus method of selecting the DG. If Okonjo-Iweala, a former World Bank managing director clinches the position, she would be the first woman and the first African to head the WTO.
The European Union, the world’s largest trading bloc, continues to back Okonjo-Iweala. But despite diplomatic pressures, the South Korean candidate Yoo Myung-hee, supported by the U.S., is yet to back down from the contest.
President Trump has regularly lambasted the WTO, saying it is “horrible” and biased towards China. His government has obstructed judge appointments, debarring its top appeals panel last month.
Okonjo-Iweala, who is the current chairperson of the GAVI vaccine alliance board, has declared “positivity all the way” on her Twitter feed.
“Dr. Ngozi is very grateful for the WTO’s support and she’s ready to get to work as soon as possible,” said Molly Toomey, her spokesperson.
Putting off the meeting to decide the leadership of the WTO indefinitely may be a ploy to delay the decision until there’s a change of administration in the USA. Democrat nominee and former Vice President Biden is universally believed to be on course to win the November 3 election. It is expected that his administration will adopt a more multilateral and less disruptive approach to global affairs, including trade issues. A Biden administration is likely to side with the European Union in endorsing Okonjo-Iweala for the DG position.