Against the high expectations of the world on picking the Director General of the World Trade Organization, the meeting scheduled to hold on November 9, 2020 where members are expected to pick a new Director-General after the United States blocked the favoured candidate, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has been postponed indefinitely. The WTO had earlier announced that the meeting would hold next week but a communication seen by AFP showed that the meeting has been postponed indefinitely. “It has come to my attention 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,” the head of the selection committee told member states. “I am therefore postponing this meeting until further notice during which period I will continue to undertake consultations with delegations,” he added.
While US is supporting South Korean Trade Minister, Yoo Myung-hee, to become the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation because she is a trade expert, the European Union and WTO’s ambassadors backed Okonjo-Iweala for the position. In giving reasons for opposing Nigeria’s candidate, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Robert Lighthizer who is the America’s Trade Representative said that WTO needs ”someone with real hands-on experience in the field.” If that is the case, Nigeria’s and Africa’s Union sole candidate had said in July while addressing the WTO that she is a trade expert too. “I am a development economist and you cannot do that without looking at trade. Trade is a central part of development. So, I have been doing it. My whole career at the World Bank, I was working on trade policy reform in middle and low-income countries at the bank.
“As Finance Minister, the customs service in my country reported to me. And that is all about trade facilitation. I helped my country’s negotiation with my Trade Minister on the ECOWAS common external tariffs. I don’t know how much more trade you can have than that.
“So those who say I don’t have trade, they are mistaken. I think the qualities I have are even better, because I combine development economics with trade knowledge, along with finance, and you need those combinations of skills to lead the WTO. I think I have the skills that are needed. I am a trade person.”
Okonjo-Iweala, who currently serves on Twitter’s board of directors, as chair of the GAVI vaccine alliance and as a special envoy for the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 fight, saw her candidacy get another boost this week when the EU threw its weight behind her. She was World Bank Vice President, Nigeria’s Finance Minister and later Foreign Affairs Minister during the Obasanjo regime of 1999 to 2007.
If she eventually gets a majority backing, she would be the first woman and the first African to lead the global trade body in its 25-year history. In the beginning of the contest, they were eight in number: four men and four women but only Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria, 66, and Yoo Myung-hee, 54, from South Korea made it to the final stage.