US mounts opposition as Okonjo-Iweala gathers more support
The United States is blocking Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment despite winning the overwhelming backing of the body’s 164 members.
The former Nigeria’s Finance Minister has moved a step closer to becoming the first woman and the first African Director-General of the global trade watchdog after securing the support of a key group of trade ambassadors in Geneva.
Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Dennis Shea, during a meeting of WTO delegates in Geneva, said the U.S. could not support a consensus decision to appoint Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala, according to three officials who monitored the proceedings.
Shea said the U.S. disagreed with the way in which the process was being carried out.
A selection panel of three WTO trade ministers found that Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala had far more support than her South Korean rival, Yoo Myung-hee.
The former World Bank Managing Director was backed by countries in the Caribbean, Africa, the European Union, China, Japan and Australia.
An original list of eight candidates, which included UK’s Liam Fox, has been whittled down to a final two since the summer.
By tradition, the WTO chooses its director-general by consensus, with all 164 members having to approve a candidate.
But the U.S. has been unhappy with the way the WTO has operated for some time, objecting to China’s designation as a developing country and blocking the appointment of new judges to the organisation’s appeals body.
Sources said it was unclear whether Washington’s opposition to Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala was a deliberate attempt to sabotage an organisation much-criticised by President Donald Trump.
A WTO spokesman said her candidacy would be put to a meeting of the body’s governing general council on November 9, adding that there was likely to be “frenzied activity” in the meantime to secure consensus.
In the event that Washington maintains its opposition to Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala, the WTO’s Constitution provides for a vote, although every previous director-general in the organisation’s 25-year history has been appointed by consensus and trade experts said life would be difficult if an appointment was made against the wishes of the US.