Nov. 2, 2020 (GIN) – Backed by an overwhelming number of World Trade Organization delegates, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was on a fast track to become the head of the global trade group.
Dr. Okonjo-Iweala was set to become the first woman and first African to lead the global trade watchdog. A selection panel of WTO trade ministers found she had far more support than a South Korean rival and it was expected that the Asian candidate would be withdrawn because the African candidate would be most likely to attract consensus among the members.
But the historic appointment hit a stumbling block with last-minute opposition from the Trump administration and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer who threw their support to Yoo Myung-hee, the current Minister for Trade of South Korea, calling her a “bona-fide trade expert”, and suggesting that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala was unqualified for the job.
“The WTO is badly in need of major reform. It must be led by someone with real, hands-on experience in the field,” the U.S. office said.
Molly Toomey, a spokeswoman for Okonjo-Iweala, rejected the comments, saying “WTO members wouldn’t have selected a Director General who is missing any skills or qualifications.”
A Nigerian-born economist and international development expert, Okonjo-Iweala sits on the Boards of Standard Chartered Bank, Twitter, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), and has held several key positions at the World Bank. She says the WTO should play a role in helping poorer countries access COVID-19 drugs and vaccines.
President Trump has shown animus to numerous world bodies and agreements, withdrawing from the World Health Organization, the Paris Agreement on climate change, the nonbinding Global Compact on Migration, the U.N. Human Rights Council, UNESCO, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, NAFTA, and the Iran nuclear deal, among others.
Trump has described the WTO as “horrible”, biased towards China and threatened to withdraw. Last month, the trade body found the U.S. had breached global trading rules by imposing multi-billion dollar tariffs in Trump’s trade war with China.
“We’ll have to do something about the WTO because they let China get away with murder,” Trump grumbled after the ruling.
The U.S. has paralyzed the WTO’s appellate body by blocking appointments to the seven-person panel for more than two years. A global court for trade, it has been unable to issue judgments on new cases since December 2019 because there aren’t enough active members.
Yoo presents herself as a “bridge” candidate, aiming to overcome the divide between the United States and China, however she is reported to be having problems solidifying support from some major Asian members – including China and Japan. The deadline for the appointment is Nov. 7. w/pix of Dr. Okonjo-Iweala