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Confusion as U.S rejects Okonjo-lweala as WTO DG

The World Trade Organization’s (WTO)bid to elect a new leader was yesterday plunged into uncertainty after the United States (U.S)rejected Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala who has been proposed as the global trade watchdog’s next leader.

Barely six days before the U.S. election in which trade is a top issue Washington struck a fresh blow at the WTO, which U.S. President Donald Trump has described as “horrible” and biased towards China.

US has already paralysed the WTO’s role as global arbiter on trade by blocking appointments to its appeals panel.

Now it threatens to render it leaderless for weeks or months to come.

The WTO itself has called a meeting for November 9, less than a week after the presidential election, by which time it hopes to have secured full backing for Okonjo-Iweala.

The decision needs to be approved by consensus, however, meaning any of the 164 WTO members could block her appointment.

Three WTO ambassadors, the “troika” charged with finding a successor to Brazilian Roberto Azevedo, had decided that the former Nigerian finance minister should be the next chief as she had secured wide cross-regional backing.

“All of the delegations that expressed their views today expressed very strong support for the process, for the troika and for the outcome. Except for one,” WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell told reporters after the closed-door meeting, specifying that the one was the U.S

Washington continued to support South Korean trade minister Yoo Myung-hee in the final round of a more than four-month selection process.

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

It was not immediately clear if the outcome of the U.S. vote would affect the U.S. position on Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment.

By then, Trump may be heading a lame-duck administration.

Many members, including China and the United States, had declined to name their preference publicly before Wednesday although some African, Caribbean and other states had voiced support for Okonjo-Iweala.

The European Union endorsed her on October 26.

AbeyaNews gathered from sources close to the negotiations that Nigerian officials are worried about whether African and Latin American nations with strong ties to the US ” can hold the line” if the leadership choice comes to be decided by a vote across the member blocs.

China, Russia and the EU have strong influence in deciding the WTO leadership and have overtly and covertly supported Okonjo-Iweala who is a US citizen.

The Trump administration has been hostile to the world body as it continues it’s “America First” policy as a pushback to China’s ascendancy as a major power and undermined WTO’s pivotal role in streamlining global trade relations over the last three years..

The leadership void was created after outgoing WTO chief Azevedo stepped down a year early in August.

The WTO is currently being steered by four deputies.

Okonjo-Iweala, a 66-year-old former finance minister and World Bank managing director, would face considerable challenges with rival economies bickering amid rising tensions and protectionism during a coronavirus-induced trade plunge.

Okonjo-Iweala, a development expert, has branded herself a “do-er”, saying she has the political clout to command influence in capitals.

Currently chair of the of GAVI vaccine alliance board, Okonjo-Iweala has also said the WTO should play a role in helping poorer countries access COVID-19 drugs and vaccines.

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