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WTO DG: US Continues To Oppose Africa’s Okonjo-Iweala, Makes ‘Unprecedented’ Demand!

The Trump-led US administration has suggested that the process to find a new Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) needs to be reopened, in a clearly unprecedented move, as it continues to oppose Okonjo-Iweala’s nomination.

President Trump’s trade chief, Robert Lighthizer, told the BBC News that the WTO needs “someone with real experience in trade”.

 A consensus is yet to be reached.

The hardline stance of the Trump administration as touching Okonjo-Iweala’s rejection, analysts say, represents one of the most pressing global trade issues Joe Biden will have to solve as US President.

South Korea’s Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee is the other finalist for the WTO top job, backed by the US. Both candidates have been kept in limbo for more than five weeks.

Lighthizer’s confirmed that there was no way the Trump administration would be persuaded to back the Nigerian ex-finance minister in its remaining weeks in office.

The impasse at the WTO comes at a sensitive time for global trade, which has suffered because of the coronavirus pandemic.

A new leader is seen as crucial for achieving meaningful change.

Lighthizer said the WTO, “is massively in need of reform”, adding that the US needs to “start making headway” on that process.

According to reports, if a new Director-General is not appointed before Joe Biden’s inauguration as US President on 20 January, it is likely the process will be delayed for several months as a new US trade team is put in place.

That includes Katherine Tai, who has been picked to be Mr Lighthizer’s successor, but needs Congressional approval.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, however, insists she is the right person for the job and has the right experience with both trade and delivering reform. Her spokesperson told the BBC: “Dr Okonjo-Iweala looks forward to engaging with the Biden administration and is hopeful that final consensus can soon be reached. The WTO urgently needs to get to work at this time of global crisis.”

Reports say Mr Biden may also embark on a widespread review of US trade policy, as dozens of industry groups are urging him to do. But he has said he doesn’t plan to immediately remove any of the tariffs Mr Trump imposed on China, and which the WTO has judged to be “inconsistent” with international trade rules.

The WTO has been without a leader since its former Director-General, Roberto Azevedo, resigned in August, saying someone else would be better placed to deliver the needed reforms. The establishment plays a crucial role in brokering trade deal and upholding international trade law

Azevedo’s tenure was blighted by US China trade war and President Trump’s widespread use of tariffs to achieve his goals on trade.

Okonjo-Iweala, 66, was Nigeria’s first female finance and foreign minister.

The Appellate Body Reform

According to Lighthizer, the WTO has, “failed to function as a negotiating body”.

He also pinpoints that “massive reform” is needed for the dispute-resolving Appellate Body, which he feels has evolved into a body creating a common law of trade, “taking away benefits” that members had negotiated for, ”and putting restraint on things that had been conceded”.

The Appellate Body has been incapacitated by the Trump administration vetoing the appointment of new judges.

“I think there’s a consensus developing at the WTO that we need the appellate body reform,” he said.

“We need to start negotiating again, we need to start making headway. So I’m glad you brought up the WTO, it’s been clearly a focus for us and to us its an organisation that started off as a good idea and basically isn’t functioning very well, but I think that can be sorted out also.”

The Director-General has an important role to play in bringing change according to former chairman of the WTO Appellate Body, as well as a former US trade negotiator, Prof. James Bacchus said.

“Effective multilateral cooperation to lower barriers to trade is urgently needed to help jumpstart the global economy and recover from the pandemic,” he said.

“That requires creative leadership from an honest broker in the role of director-general.”

Joe Biden hasn’t given any indication that he prefers either Yoo or Okonjo-Iweala for the WTO’s top job, according to reports.

But in a recent comment on trade, he said: “We need to be aligned with the other democracies… so that we can set the rules of the road instead of having China and others dictate outcomes.”

“If the Biden administration can trade off support for Ngozi for political capital on other reforms, that certainly seems like a good idea,” Simon Lester, a WTO expert at the Cato Institute in Washington told the BBC.

He added that this would be the quickest way to get a new WTO leader in place.

NEWS/PHOTO SOURCE: BBC | News Agencies

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