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.
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, 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.
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.