Chances of Nigeria’s former Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of coasting to victory in her bid to head the World Trade Organisation (WTO) got a big boost yesterday with the formal submission of her name for the position by the Chair of the General Council for WTO, Dr. David Walker and Facilitators for the appointment of the next Director General.
The Facilitators are Ambassador Dacio Castillo, Chair of the Dispute Settlement Body and Ambassador Harald Aspelund, Chair of the Trade Policy Review Body.
The decision to formally submit Okonjo-Iweala’s name was taken at the meeting of the Heads of Delegation of the organisation held on October 28, a decision which analysts said may have finally sealed the fate of the U.S.-backed South Korean candidate Yoo Myung-hee.
However, due to some reasons including the recent tightening of measures to contain Covid-19, following a rise in infections in parts of Switzerland such as Brussels, which hosts the headquarters of the organisation, and the ongoing US elections, the final selection process has been postponed till further notice.
The submission of Okonjo-Iweala’s name is seen as a confirmation of the earlier decision of the informal session of the Council to adopt her “as the candidate most likely to attract consensus and recommending her appointment by the General Council as the next Director-General of the WTO”.
It will be recalled that the Trump administration despite the massive votes received by Okonjo-Iweala in the campaign for DG has opposed her emergence on procedural grounds and other reasons – a position that had been criticized as unjustifiable by a majority of WTO members.
Trade sources blamed the postponement in the selection date on the fact that there had been no indication the Trump administration – which will continue to govern trade policy in the weeks ahead irrespective of any U.S. election result – had switched its support to Okonjo-Iweala.
Agency report quoted a WTO document yesterday saying that “For reasons including the health situation and current events, delegations will not be in a position to take a formal decision on 9 November.” It said it had been postponed until further notice.
The WTO later confirmed the decision on its website, saying consultations would continue. The body usually chooses its new leader by consensus, with trade sources saying they would be reluctant to resort to a vote.
A high-powered WTO panel last month recommended Okonjo-Iweala, a former finance minister, to lead the global trade watchdog, setting her up to become its first African and first woman head.
However, the South Korean candidate Yoo Myung-hee, has not withdrawn from the race, despite mounting diplomatic pressure.
There was no immediate comment from the U.S. Trade Representative’s office.
U.S. President Donald Trump has frequently criticised the WTO, calling it “horrible” and biased towards China. His administration has already blocked judge appointments, disabling its top appeals panel last year.
Okonjo-Iweala, currently chairing the GAVI vaccine alliance board, has vowed “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,” her spokeswoman Molly Toomey said.
The Geneva-based body has been run by four deputies since Brazil’s Roberto Azevedo stepped down a year early in August.