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US tries to block Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as first African WTO head

by OtownGist
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The appointment of Nigeria’s former finance minister to lead the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has been thrown into doubt after the US blocked the move.

On Wednesday, a WTO nominations committee recommended the group’s 164 members appoint Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

The US, critical of the WTO’s role over global trade rules, wants another woman, South Korea’s Yoo Myung-hee.

Ms Okonjo-Iweala said she was “immensely humbled” to be nominated.

But the four-month selection process to find the next WTO director-general hit a road block when Washington said it would continue to back South Korea’s trade minister.

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Media reports cited WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell as saying just one member country did not support Ms Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment at a delegates’ meeting on Wednesday.


“All of the delegations that expressed their views today expressed very strong support for the process… for the outcome. Except for one,” he said. Reuters said Mr Rockwell confirmed that the objection came from the US.

‘Frenzied activity’

US President Donald Trump has described the WTO as “horrible” and biased towards China, and some appointments to key roles in the organisation have already been blocked.

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The WTO has called a meeting for 9 November – after the US presidential election – to discuss the issue. US opposition does not mean the Nigerian cannot be appointed, but Washington could nevertheless wield considerable influence over the final decision.

Mr Rockwell told reporters there was likely to be “frenzied activity” to secure a consensus for Ms Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment. She has the support of the European Union.

The leadership void was created after outgoing WTO chief Roberto Azevedo stepped down a year early in August. The WTO is currently being steered by four deputies.

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Ms Okonjo-Iweala, 66, served as her country’s first female finance and foreign minister and has a 25-year career behind her as a development economist at the World Bank..

She also serves on Twitter’s board of directors, as chair of the GAVI vaccine alliance and as a special envoy for the World Health Organisation’s Covid-19 fight.

If Ms Okonjo-Iweala is eventually appointed she will have a full in-tray. The WTO is already grappling with stalled trade talks and tensions between the US and China.

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Earlier this month she said that her broad experience in championing reform made her the right person to help put the WTO back on track. “I am a reform candidate and I think the WTO needs the reform credentials and skills now.



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