WTO : Okonjo -Iweala Laughs Last

By Stephen Ubanna

 Ms.Myung-hee Yoo, the North American Continent of the United States backed South Korea’s minister of Trade, to be the Director General of the World Trade Organisation, WTO, a Trade agency, of the United Nations, UN, may have known that she had lost the battle  with the defeat of Donald Trump, the former US, President, who had  contested the 2020 election in the country  on the ticket of the Republican  party but lost to Joe Biden, a one-time Vice President and Candidate of the Democrats.

The South Korea Trade minister  who  had been under mounting  diplomatic  pressure from several quarters since November 9, 2020, may have surprised the 164 member nations of the WTO, when she withdrew  from the race  to lead the global trade  watchdog on Friday, February 5, 2021, thus, clearing the way for Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a  Nigerian former minister of Finance  and Coordinator of the economy, under former President Gooluck Jonathan.

Yoo: South Korea Minister Of Trade Withdraws From WTO Race To Pave Way For Okonjo-Iweala

In giving reasons for her withdrawal from the WTO, Director General race, Ms.  Yoo had said, ‘’in order to promote the functions of the Organisation  and in consideration  of various factors, I have decided  to withdraw my Candidacy’’. She may have taken the decision to step  down ‘’ after Consultations  with her allies including the US’’.

Note that the  WTO had been  without a leader  since August, 2020  when Brazil’s Roberto Azevedo  stepped down early in the year. It is on record that  the global trade body  is currently  facing  the deepest crisis in 25 years  as it has not  clinched  a major Multilateral  trade deal  in years.  Observers say   some of  its functions  are paralysed  due to the actions  of Trump, the  former US, President.

 The Trump Administration may have matters worse for the WTO, from coming out of the woods as it had rejected  Oknonjo-Iweala, the Nigeriaan front-running  Candidate, defying the Organisation’s  other member nations and   leaving the conclusion of the election open ended. The then Trump Administration  had said that its support  for Ms Yoo.  Was informed by the fact  that she is ‘’a bona fide  trade expert’’, arguing  that the TO  was facing ‘’a difficult time’’  and therefore should be ‘’led  by someone with real, hands-on  experience in the field’’. Even Keith RockWell,  WTO, spokesperson said that much. According to him, the US ,delegates  had backed  Ms. Yoo because of her 25 years trade experience and currently serves as South Korea Trade minister, which is an added advantage.

Many believe that theglobal  trade watchdog   may have been without an interim  Director General, with the resignation of Azevedo, the immediate boss,  because  China, a  permanent member of the UN, Security Council,  had vetoed the US  suggestion  that  Alan Wolff, one the agency Deputy Directors General, should take over the running of the agency.  China, which is a trade ally to  Nigeria, may have refused to t go along with the US, suggestion, because  there was already an elected Director General for the Organisation who ought to have  taken over but stopped by the Trump Administration.

Informed sources at the Nigeria ministry of Trade, Investment and Industries, disclosed that prior to Ms Yoo withdrawal of her Candidacy from the WTO race,  the three leading  WTO  Ambassadors, baptised as  ‘’the troikas’’,   in the recent days  have been holding private  Consultations   among the Geneva-based WTO  members on the need to how their weight on Okonjo-Iweala, the Nigerian Candidate, who had  clearly won the election  that produced her as the WTO, Director General.

Given the turn of events in the US, November election, which produced Biden as the President  and the Administration’s support for Okonjo-Iweala, the Nigerian Candidate,  the coast is now clear for the Nigerian former minister of Finance to take over  as DG, WTO.

Biden: throws His Weight On Oknonjo-Iweala for WTO Top Job

 Biden, the US President had made a policy Statement  on Thursday,Fbruary 4, 2021,  ‘’that heralded US’s  return  to Multilateralism  and Cooperation with its allies most of whom had voted  for Okonjo-Iweala,  to break the leadership deadlock in WTO.  The Biden Administration may have been encouraged to throw its weight behind Okonjo-Iweala, as the next Director General of the WTO, following the withdrwal of the South Korea minister of Trade from the race.

There are indications that some former  senior offiials of the US  government  have urged  Biden  to support the Nigerian Okonjo-Iweala, who is believed  to be tough  enough  to  undertake  the difficult job of  unblocking  the  deadlock  in WTO, over adjudication of trade disputes and the appellate court system .  Prhaps, this may have informed why the Biden Administration had declared that ‘’it is pleased to  express its strong support   for the Candidacy of Okonjo-Iweala as the next Director General ,  of the WTO.

The Administration had said that , the Nigerian Candidate  will bring to bear on the Organisation  her wealth of nknowledge   in economics and international diplomacy  from her  25 years with the World Bank and terms as a Nigerian minister of Finance and Coordinator of the economy.  The Administration has every reason to support the Nigeria Finance minister for the WTO, top position,  because ‘’she is widely respected for her effective leadership and has proven experience managing  a large Organisation with diverse membership’’.

The WTO administrators, on paper,   are expected to meet in March ‘’to take a final decision  on the WTO  Director General election, but with the  Ms Yoo withdrawal of her Candidacy, the coast is now clear for  the Nigerian Candidate ‘’to take over much sooner than later’’.

Molly Toomey, Oknono-Iweala spokesperson, may have gladdened he heart of many when she said that she  ‘’is ready to hit the ground running’’, stating that the WTO, must return  its focus  to the Wuhan town in the Asian country of China emerged coronavirus or COVID 19, and global economic recovery’’.

She had said that the Nigerian former minister of Finance and Coordinator of the economy, who is waiting in the wings to  take  over  as the  WTO  Director General,  is eager to focus on the needed reforms  in the Organisation.

 Hear her: although  the job is a difficult  one,  it is a great opportunity , for the new WTO, Director General, particular, due to  the synchronicity  with the launching of the African Continental Free Trade Area, Agreement, AfCTA, in 2019.

 There is no gainsaying saying the fact  that ‘’if all things goes well as  to plannd African Union, AU, it will be  the biggest  geographical trading bloc  in the world’’.

 S The good news is that she may have to use her position to ensure that  Africa is  not left out  of important discussions and policies, more important than ever now, due to the economic downturn  caused by the COVID 19 pandemic.

Many believe that she has fully  prepaired herself for the WTO job  with her 25 years experience  in the World Bank, where she was said to have spearheaded   several economic recovery initiatives to assist  low-income countries, particular , raising  nearly  $ 50 billion  in 2010, from donor countries for the International Development Association, IDA,, the bank’s fund  for the poorest countries in the world.  

  Trade experts believe  that she is coming to head the WTO  at a time when  the Organisation’s capacity  to promote  rules-based  trade has  been undermined  by geographical  tensions, including China model of Capitalism and the damage that has be caused the body by the erstwhile Trump Adminisration’s propensity  in taking unilateral actions to hit  back  against  perceived ill- treatment of American Companies by China.

Okojo-Iweala: Appreciative To Buhari For His Support In Clinching The WTO Top Job

Aware that the coast is now clear for her to take over  as  the WTO Director General,  the Nigerian WTO, Director General hopeful,  who could not hide her feelings  had expressed  her appreciation to President Mohammadu Buhari, a retired  army General and the people of Nigeria for their unflinching  support ‘’ during the trying period.

 She was said to have also expressed  her  appreciation  to the US  government for their support   to occupy the WTO  top job after three months of uncertainty due to the hardline position of the Trump Administration in supporting Ms Yoo, the South Korea , minister of Trade for the position.

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