The World Trade Organisation’s attempts to select a new leader were plunged into uncertainty yesterday after the United States rejected the Nigerian candidate.
Three WTO ambassadors, charged with finding a successor to the Brazilian Roberto Azevedo, had decided that Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former Nigerian finance minister, should be the next director-general as she had secured wide cross-regional backing putting her on course to be the first women to lead the trade body since it was founded in 1995.
Their decision, which awaits approval from WTO members, caps a more than four-month selection process involving intensive lobbying in which she squared up against Yoo Myung-hee, the South Korean trade minister, in the final round.
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However, her candidacy failed to win the support of Washington, which raised last-minute objections to the process by which the new director general was being picked. An original list of eight candidates, which included the former British international trade secretary 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. The US 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 Okonjo-Iweala was a deliberate attempt to sabotage an organisation much criticised by Donald Trump.
A WTO spokesman said her candidacy would be put to a meeting of the body’s governing general council on 9 November, adding that there was likely to be “frenzied activity” in the meantime to secure consensus.
In the event that Washington maintains it will not support Okonjo-Iweala, the WTO’s constitution does eventually provide 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.Photo Credit: Getty