Why Okonjo-Iweala May Laugh Last As the WTO General Council Plans To Invoke 2002 Selection Procedure


By Stephen Ubanna

When President Muhammadu Buhari, a retired Army General, old  Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a one-time minister of Finance and Coordinator of the Economy under Former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck  Jonathan, Administration, during a visit,  last October, that he would do everything within his powers to ensure that she was appointed the  Director General of the World Trade Organisation WTO,  an  Agency of the United Nations, people took the Statement with a pinch of salt.

The argument political circles  was  that the Buhari led All Progressive Congress, APC, government  may abandon her on the middle of the road  when the battle gets tougher. But the Katsina born Nigerian President  appear to have kept to his words despite the strong opposition of the Donald Trump, led Republican  government of the North American country of the United States, US.,  to stop the emergence of the Nigerian ex-minister   as the WTO Director General.

The third and final rounds  of Consultations  for the selection  of the Director General  of the world trade body  which had commenced  in Geneva, Switzerland, the Headquarters of the Organisation,  on Tuesday, October 19, 2020,   was  said to have been concluded on Tuesday, October 29, 2020.

 Based on the report of the  WTO nominations Committee  to the General  Council, under the Chairmanship of David Walker of New Zealand, and the  facilitators  of the election  process  including  the Troika, of WTO Chairs,  had recommended to the 164 member nations of  the Trade Organisation   that  Okonjo –Iweala, the Nigerian nominee for the WTO  for top job who was said to have won the election and therefore, should be appointed. She was said to have secured an overwhelming support  both in terms of  numbers  and geographical spread.

Myung-hee: South Korea Minister of Trade And Nominee For Director General, WTO

  But the  U.S. government would not accept the WTO, General Council recommendations , to appoint the Nigerian nominee as the  next WTO, Director General, to replace Roberto Azevedo, the Brazilan, former Director General of the UN, Agency  , who  had resigned last August, a year ahead of the expiration of his tenure .

The  refusal of the  US  government to adopt Okonjo-Iweala , may have been taken  based on the outcome of the discussion   between two trade experts: rufus  Yerxa, President  of the U.S.  National Foreign  Trade Council,  and who incidentally was a  one-time, Deputy  Director General of  the WTO, and  Wendy Cutler , current  Vice President  and Managing Director  of the Washington D.C.  office of the Asia Society  Policy Institute  and also a one- time senior Negotiator  at the US  Trade Representative’s office. Keven Levinson , Executive Director, Washington  International Trade Association , WITA, was  said to have moderated the discussion.

  The discussion, of the duo which  was  said to have  dealt with ‘’the challenges  to the ongoing  WTO   Director-General  selection process  from the point of  view of the  U.S. announcement  and  Yoo Mung-hee, the  South Korea’s  Candidate  refusal  to withdraw from the race , may have prepared the ground for the UIS. governemnt to take a stand on the WTO Director General Election.

Many had expected Myung-hee to withdraw following the announcement  that Okonjo-Iweala , the Nigeria nominee  was the Candidate most likely  to attract  consensus  based on the  third round  of Consultations, which was said to had been concluded on  Sunday, October 27, 2020.

based on the discussion of the trade experts, the US  government was said to have made it clear that’’ it was not prepared to back Okonjo-Iweala, the Nigerian Candidate.  It noted that under the current situation of the WTO,  ‘’It needed a Director General with a trade  experience’’, stressing that the Myung –hee, the South Korea Candidate fits into the position.

But Ambassador  David Walker, chairman, WTO, General Council  and other members of the WTO, who were said to have reviewed the short video  of the discussion between, Yerxa  and Cutler, on the WTO,  Director General selection process  may have faulted the  position of the duo.  The WTO  General Council had upheld the nominations Committee report which shows that Okonjo Iweala, the Nigerian nominee  had received  the highest  number of votes in the third rounds of Consultations.

 The Council stressed    that ’’under  the 2002 procedures for appointment of   WTO  Directors- General  which the Council had  adopted  and being followed in this year’s selection process,   with its  Facilitators  had agreed to put forward the Nigeria nominee’s name  at the upcoming  meeting  as the recommended choice of  the WTO for the office of the  Director General.        

The U.S.  Trade Representative office was said to have issued a Statement  on the  selection of the next WTO,  Director General on Monday, October 28, 2020. The Trade  Representative office, which has a major influence on Donald Trump, U.S. President,  Trade policies,  and appointments into key positions in WTO, was said to have made it clear  that ‘’ the U.S. supports  the selection of South Korea Myung –hee as the next  WTO Director General, based on the ground that  She is a  ‘’ bona fide trade expert’’   who has distinguished  herself   during a 25 year career  as a’’ successful trade Negotiator  and trade policy maker’’.  The  Trade Representative office also  said that   she’’ has  all the skills  necessary  to be an effective Leader of the Organisation’’.

WTO General Council Consultations

The U.S. Trade Representative office had said  that  ‘’this is  a very difficult time   for the WTO and international trade, as ‘’there  had  been no  multilateral tariff  negotiations  over the last 25 year.

The situation may have been made worse as the dispute settlement system of the Organisation   was said to have  gotten out of control  as  too few member nations fulfill the transparency obligations. This may have informed why the U.S. government had made it clear that the next Director General of the WTO  ‘’ must  be ‘’ someone  with  real, hands-on experience on the field’’.   

The Nigerian President appear to have kept to his word of supporting Okonjo-Iweala, to the end of the Journey. As a prelude  of ensuring that   the US, government  drop its opposition to join the consensus in selecting the Nigerian ex-Finance minister     as the Director General   of the WTO,  at the November 9, 2020,  Special General  Council meeting, after the U.S., Presidential election, he has set up a Team to reach  out to the 164 member states of the UN, Agency, to prepare the ground for the emergence of  the Nigerian nominee  as the WTO Director General.

 That much was confirmed  by  Hajia Marian Katagun,  a one one-time  Ambassador,and now  minister of state for Industry, Trade and Investment. Recall that she had headed  the Campaign Strategy  Team  of Okonjo-Iweala for the WTO, Director General job.

 The minister , may have gladdened the heart of Nigerians   when  she said that  the government  was already in talks  with the US,and South Korea government ‘’ to overcome the impasse of appointing Okonjo-Iweala as the WTO Director General’’.

Amb. Marian Katagun, Headed Okonjo -Iweala Campaign Strategy Team

 The Nigeria government may have adopted a subtle Diplomatic approach  to persuade  the two countries, which are  standing between the Nigerian  ex-minister of Finance and Coordinator of the Economy and the WTO top job to encourage them to join the Consensus in adopting the recommendations  of the WTO General Council of the appointment  of Okonjo-Iweala, the Nigerian nominee as the  WTO Director General.Hajia Katagun who could not hide her feelings had said that she is optimistic  that  the government  would ‘’achieve   the desired goal  of the Delta  state born International bureaucrat, in ‘’securing  the appointment as the Director General of WTO’’.

The fears in global trade circles is that if the U.S. maintains its opposition against the Nigeria nominee between now and November 9, 2020, it would prevent Okonjo-Iweala from being  appointed the Director General of the UN Agency.

 Moreso, Trade  analysts fears that the Nigeria  government may not be able to influence the US, government  , to drop its opposition against Okonjo-Iweala,  if Trump eventually  wins the upcoming Presidential Election in the North American country.  They noted that for now, the  Nigerian government officials  could get on the phone, to  mobilise support  but that they cannot not change  the view of  Washington, to adopt Okonjo-Iweala  as the WTO Director General by Consensus.

The rmour making the rounds is  that if the U.S.  government fail to join other member states  to adopt Okonjo-Iweala, as the consensus Canditate for the WTO Directors General ,  members will either  appoint  her by consensus  or put the appointment on unchartered  waters.

Going by the 2002, selection procedures  of the WTO  Director General that had been adopted by the General Council, ‘’it provides for turning  to selection  by a vote  by members as a last resort’’.

As at press time, Myung –hee, the South Korea Candidate,  has not witdrawn, being the first Candidate  since the 2002  procedures  were adopted  by the WTO General Council. 

  Indeed, there have been pressures on her from different quarters  to withdraw her Candidacy  after a round of Consultations  in which her  Candidacy  was not advancing . The situation, however, could change in the coming days, an analyst said.

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