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Tuesday, 03 November 2020 04:10

[OPINION] Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala: Best Woman for the WTO Job - Reuben Abati

 The emergence of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the consensus candidate for the position of the Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) has been held up by the last minute objection of the United States. The consultations process by the “Troika” saddled with the responsibility of selecting a consensus candidate in line with the Procedures for the Appointment of WTO DG (10 December 2002), followed due process and after 500 meetings and consultations, over a period of 4 months, 104 countries chose Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, 60 other members chose Ms Yoo Myung-Hee, the candidate of South Korea who along with Nigeria’s Okonjo-Iweala had made the final shortlist of 2 as of October 8.  Further consultations gave Okonjo-Iweala 163 votes. South Korea did not withdraw the candidacy of Ms Yoo, but it also did not oppose the Nigerian candidate. 


Under Articles 15-19 of its procedures, WTO chooses its DG by consensus. The General Council has now decided that a final decision will be taken on December 9, after a week of further negotiations with the United States. If that fails, the body will have no option but to activate Article 20 which talks about “recourse to voting as a last resort.” This gives us confidence and hope. Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has the critical support of her country, Nigeria, and all categories: developed, developing and other members of the WTO, across all representative continents. The US Trade Representative says “due process” has not been followed. That is not true. The attempt by the United States to tell a lie to give others a bad name is what has now united other members of the WTO Council against the United States. The US also says the WTO needs someone with “real, hands-on experience in the field.” Everyone else is convinced that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is eminently qualified.  Look at her credentials. First Class. Outstanding. Great personality. 


The United States is playing gutter politics. This is about the US Presidential Election 2020, and the trade conflict with China. Before now, President Trump described the WTO as “horrible” and too partial to China. He wants to be seen on the eve of one of America’s most divisive elections (cf. 1800, 1824, 1860, 1960, 1968 and 2000)  as a strong nationalist who puts America first. There is also a ring of déjà vu to this. In 2012, the United States thought Okonjo-Iweala was too bold to seek the position of President of the World Bank despite the unwritten rule that the office is reserved only for Americans. The US prefers South Korea’s Ms Yoo because they think she would be more pliable. They also don’t want China to fill the slot of Deputy Director General. Okonjo-Iweala is also accused of being a globalist. Under President Trump, the US has played the politics of isolationism, unilateralism and a recourse to bilateralism on his own terms. I also think there is a racist sub-text to this: Trump has opposed every multilateral institution led by Africans: WHO and the AfDB are most recent examples. 


Will the US have its way? I don’t think so. If Trump loses the US Presidential election today, as he should, that will change the game. If he wins, the WTO, in any case, operates on a “one country one vote” basis. A recourse to “voting as a last resort”, an exceptional departure from customary practice, should get Nigeria’s candidate the job, which she certainly deserves.  


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