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.
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’’.
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’’.
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.