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Trade: Why The United States Government Was In A Hurry To Stop Okonjo-Iweala, From Being Appointed WTO, Director General As Trump Adpts Myung hee, of South Korea

By Stephen Ubanna

President Muhammadu Buhari, a retired Army Generala, may  not  be one of the best  Presidents Nigeria had produced between May 29, 1999 and now. But when it comes to supporting top flight  Nigerians seeking International appointments, the Katsina state born Nigerian President  had  thrown  his  weight  behind each of the Candidates  irrespective of their  ethnic or religious  coloration.

Take for instance the nomination of Akinwumi Adesina, a former minister of Agriculture and Rural Developmen,t under former President Goodluck Jonathan,  as the  Nigerian  Candidate for the  African Development Bank, AfDB, top job, which had been denied the country  over the years.

Recall  that he has the powers to stop the  Adesina  nomination  which was made by the previous Administration, but  he was said to have followed it  up to ensure that he wins  on the first ballot  at the Abdjan, Cote d’Ivoire Headquarters of the Bank in 2015.

He was said to have mobilised other African leaders to support the Nigerian Candidate. He had his way. He was said to have given him  a same support  in his re-election bid, facilitating the unanimous vote  which he got from  member countries both within and outside the African Continent  last August.   

It was therefore not very surprising that When Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former World Bank, Managing Director who  had served as minister of Finance and Coordinator of the Economy under former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, a retired Army General and Jonathan,   declared her interest to run as the Director General of the World Trade Organisation,  WTO, an agency of the United Nations, UN, based in Geneza, Switzerland. She was quickly adopted as  the  country’s Candidate for the WTO top job.

Trump: US President Opposed To Okonjo-Iweala, Nigerian Nominee For WTO DG

 Okonjo-Iweala, who had  needed  the full support of the government because she  has  Yoo Myung- hee, the  current  minister of Trade   in the Asian country of South Korea, described in world Trade circles as  a very strong force to contend with. This may have informed why she had visited  the retired Army General  at the Villa , early October, where  the duo were said to have held  a  closed door meeting over the WTO  top job.

She was said to have left the Villa, a happy peson, with the promises extracted from the Nigerian President. He was said to have promised ‘’to do everything within his powers to  ensure  that  she became the Director General of  the UN , Agency’’.  Aware that Myung- hee, is not a push over,  for the WTO top job  because of the US, government support and may not stand  any chances of being selected by the nominations Committee , she had no option but to cry to the government  . Again, Buhari was said to have reached out to other African Leaders and other member countries across Europe and Asia, to support the Nigerian nominee.  

Okonjo-Iweala: Awaiting To Take Over As DG, WTO

Donald Trump , the US, President  may not have wanted to support  the Nigerian nominee, for the WTO top job, who is acknowledged, world wide as an experienced  International Bureaucrat  and reformer and most suitable  for the  job because of the  multilateral  trade relationship between Nigeria and  China.

 The US, government major worry was  that if the Nigerian nominee  could   be announced as the WTO Director General by the General Council of the Organisation, it  would give China  an edge   in dictating global trade policies.

Trump, particular, had described the UN Agency, as ‘’horrible  and biased towards China’’. It is not surprising  why he had blocked  some appointments  to key roles in the Organisation including that of Okonjo-Iweala.

The US, office of Trade Representatives which had   issued a  Statement recently   had said that this is a very  is a very difficult time  for the WTO and international trade, stressing that’’the  dispute  settlement system  has  gotten out of control, as  only few member countries  fulfill  transparency obligations’’.

 The US Trade office  had said  that ‘’the WTO  is badly in need  of  a major reform which could only be carried out by the South Korea minister of Trade, because she’’ has ”’all the expertise  to  be an effective Leader of the Organisation’’. The Us  government never for once see the Nigerian WTO nominee as a broad reformer who could  bring about changes  to the world trade body.

The ex-Nigerian minister may  not have allowed the US government opposition to dampen her efforts to clinch the WTO top job. She had told those cares to listen that  that her broad experience  in championing major reforms  at the World Bank and the Nigerian economy , ‘’made her the right  person to put  the WTO back on track’’.

Global Trade analysts  would want the US  government to drop its  opposition  against the Nigerian Candidate   as there a re lots of work to done at the Agency .  Until the  resignation of Roberto Azevedo, the Brazilian, former Director General of the Agency, last August,  the  UN  agency , was already ‘’ grappling with stalled  trade talks  and tension between the US an China’’.  

Notwithstanding the US opposition to  the recommendation of  Okonjo-Iweala, the  Nigerian ex-minister of Finance and Coordinator  of the Economy, at the recent  WTO Council  General meeting at Geneva,  it had recommended to the 164 member nations   to appoint the Nigerian  as the  Director General but the US turned the request down. This may have informed why WTO General Council had called for a Special meeting  for November 9, 2020,after the US Presidential Election  to discuss the issue.

Mu=yung -hee: South Korea Minister of Trade And Nominee For DG, WTO

 Many believe  that  the US  opposition  may not forestall  the Nigerian nominee from being  appointed  as the WTO, Director General.  An  informed  source  disclosed that  the Trump government, nevertheless, may still wield a considerable influence in the final decision.   Perhaps, what  may  be going for the Nigerian WTO, Diector General, nominee,  was the enormous support  enjoyed from the  EU. The fallout was behind the scene maneuvering to  secure  a  consensus for her.      

With 104  countries including the EU, solidly behind  the Nigerian nominee,  which may  have paved the way for  her  to win the WTO  top job, which  announcement ought to have been made on Wednesday, October 30, 2020, in Geneva, the Switzerland Headquarters of the Trade Organisation , analysts believe that she would  still make it, which would make her  the first African woman, to  occupy  the 25year-  old Global Trade watchdog.

As a prelude to winning the WTO top job, the African, AU, in solidarity  with the Nigerian government, had on October 15, 2020, barely 13 days to the election of the  new  Director General, of  WTO, decided to  bury their political differences  in order  to give  their  backing  to Okonjo-Iwela , to forestall Myung-hee,  the South Korea nominee from succeeding  the  Brazilian  Azevedo , the former Director General, who had  resigned .

Cyril Ramophosa, the South African President and Chairman , AU, who  had announced his  personal support for the Nigerian Candidate, was said to have  played a key role in forcing some other  African countries’ Leaders who were sitting on the fence  because there were  three other Africans  in the WTO  top job race to take a stand on Okonjo-iwala.

The pressure  from several quarters both  within and outside  the African Continent may have forced  Abdel Hamid Mahmoud, the Egyptian Candidate, to withdraw from the race on September 18, 2020. 

Amina Mohammed, the Kenyan Candidate who  was said to have   followed suit on October 8, 2020, was said to have dropped out in the second round of the convoluted  election process put in place by the UN Trade  Agency.  The convoluted election process  may have made it easy for the AU,  to give their block vote to the Nigerian Candidate , without any Opposition.

It is not surprising why the Nigerian Candidate was said to have  gotten Considerable  support   between September  and October 30, 2020.  The rumour making the rounds in major world Capitals, before the WTO, Council General meeting  was that the Nigerian Candidate   stands a chance  of winning with  a unanimous vote as the WTO, Director General.

The Nigerian Candidate chances of winning the WTO  top job post may have been brightened  on Wednesday, October  30, 2020, after the Agency Council, General  Ordinary meeting at the  Geneva, Headquarters of the Agency.  The WTO nominations   Committee  members were said   to have recommended to  the  Group’s  164 members to appoint Okonjo-Iweala, as the  new WTO, Director General.     

In spite of the fact that it   was clear that Okonjo-Iweala was on the road to becoming  the WTO  Director General,  the US, government which had been critical of the WTO   past Leaderships over its poor handling  of global trade matters   had vowed’’to continue its support  to  Myung –hee, the South Korea  Candidate, who is a Trade  expert and had been involved  in multilateral tariff negotiations  over the last 25 years.

Global Trade sources however, believe that the Japanese government  decision  to support, Okonjo-Iweala, the Nigerian government nominee  , for the post of the WTO Director General , may have finally sealed the hopes of Myung-hee, the South Korea nominee of  taking over from  Azevedo,  the former Director General of the WTO, who had resigned.

The move, according to Global  trade sources came  against  the backdrop  of  the semiconductor –related trade dispute  between   the two Asian Countries Industrial giant

. The South Korea nominee was said to have been a very  strong critic of Japan, trade policies, which the government did not find funny.  Indeed, the Nigerian government nominee for the WTO top job may have been further brightened   when  the shortlisted Candidates for the  job was  narrowed down  to Myung-hee and Nigeria’s Okonjo-Iweala.

The Nigeria Foreign Affairs ministry officials and Hajia Marian Kagun, a one -Time Diplomat and Chairman of Okonjo-Iweala, Campign Strategy Team,    were said to have to have taken up  the challenge  to drum up  support  for the Nigeria  ex-minister of Finance  by encouraging  other WTO  Member countries  to support her Candidature , describing as ”a superior Candidate to the US backed Myung-hee of South Korea”.

 The argument  in both official and unofficial circles   was that  Okonjo- Iweala, as a former Managing Director of the World Bank, and who had  successfully midwifed   far –reaching reforms on the Nigerian economy   was  in a better position  ‘’to balance  the interests of  the  major WTO  member nations and proactively  contribute  to maintaining  and strengthening  multilateral  trade frameworks’’ across the global economy.  

Stephen Ubanna

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