Nigeria’s ex-Finance Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala Wednesday had her dream of becoming the first female and an African as the new Director-General of the World Trade Organisation put on hold, as Washington insists it would not recognize her as consensus candidate.
In a last ditch move, the United States representative at WTO took to the floor insisting South Korea’s candidate remained a contender, and that “Washington will not recognize Okonjo-Iweala as the consensus candidate for appointment as Director-general.”
In response to this, the general counsel postponed its announcement of the new DG until a further meeting scheduled for 9 November; after the US presidential elections.
A panel at the WTO had though recommended her for the position.
The initial choice of Okonjo-Iweala as the consensus candidate for the WTO top job would have been a tremendous boost for Africa and put her forward for one of the toughest jobs in the international system.
Reports from Geneva say she had won the support from the vast majority of member states, including the EU, Japan and China, but not the United States.
She would have to lead the charge for a revival of multilateralism, in the negotiating chambers of the WTO and for a better deal for developing economies, as well as for the practical matter of how reforming trade and patent rules can allow the distribution of life saving vaccines and therapeutics as the coronavirus pandemic rips across the world on its second wave.
If providence provides her the opportunity as the first woman and African to head the trade body, Okonjo-Iweala would have shattered a couple of ceilings at the same time.
She also has a chance to put Africa’s plans to build the world’s biggest free trade area on the top table, pointing to the productive and market opportunities on the continent.
At the same time, she is like winning the race for the job against very stiff opposition. That much was clear when the immediate past DG-Brazil’s Robert Azevêdo-left the post early after years of frustration at the logjams in negotiation on reforming the WTO.
Those negotiations have been made harder by the eruption of a trade war between the US and China alongside sporadic outbreaks of economic nationalism across the globe.
Surely, this must be the worst time to take over an organisation dedicated to multilateral trade agreements; The Africa Report had asked Okonjo-Iweala during the campaign.
“Multilateralism has never been needed more than now. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that this is the time we need to act in solidarity to have multilateral solutions, because there are simply some things in the world that bilateral or even sub-regional solutions cannot solve,” she had responded.
Nigerians have taken to the social media to blast the President Donald Trump administration for opposing Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the consensus candidate for the post of director-general of the World Trade Organisation.
Many Nigerians had expressed delight when key WTO ambassadors led by New Zealand’s Ambassador David Walker proposed Okonjo-Iweala as the best candidate for the job.
However, while most of the 164 member states that comprise the WTO supported the former Nigerian finance minister to take up the role, the US delegation opposed the move, saying it supported South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee instead.
Reacting, some Nigerians likened the US opposition to that encountered by African Development Bank chief, Akinwumi Adesina, who also faced intense hostility from Washington before his re-election.
The breakthrough of Adesina, has, however, been a source of hope for many who want the former World Bank director to become the first African and first female director-general in the 25-year-old history of the global trade organisation.
Popular Journalist, Dele Momodu, said on a TV programme Thursday morning, “It is very unfortunate. I don’t know why the US is always opposing Nigeria’s candidates but I believe the other countries will stand up against the bullying of America.
“Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is one of the brightest, not only on the continent but in the world. I look forward to congratulating her as soon as possible.”
@jeolaolarewaju also tweeted, “Even with America’s misconceived approach, she has the upper hand because she has shattered a couple of ceilings.”
@Dbest101 wrote, “If God be for you @NOIweala, no man, not even @realDonaldTrump, can be against you.”
Noblemighty Njoku commented on Facebook, “Trump’s racism can’t be hidden nor his pure hatred for Africans.”
Akin Akinsehinwa stated, “The US should just let Nigeria be. The US made frantic efforts to block the re-election of Dr. Akinwumi Adeshina but God put it to shame. The same God is still on His throne. So the US should expect another round of disgrace.”
Hephzibah Suobo wrote, “Is the WTO a property of one country or all its members? She already had the majority of the votes out of 164 states. She can’t be stopped.”
The troika has concluded the third round of consultations and its decision marks an important step paving the way for Okonjo-Iweala to become both the first woman and the first African to head the organisation.
But the WTO’s 164 member states still need to determine whether they will support her before their next General Council meeting on November 9.