In the wake of United States’ opposition to the appointment of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, as the director general of World Trade Organization (WTO), on the ground that she lacks trade knowledge, Okonjo Iwela-Ala has responded, refuting the claims with references to her past experiences in trade.
Her response reads below:
“I am a development economist and you cannot do that without looking at trade. Trade is a central part of development. So, I have been doing it. My whole career at the World Bank, I was working on trade policy reform in middle and low-income countries at the bank.
“As a finance minister, the customs service in my country reported to me. And that is all about trade facilitation. I helped my country’s negotiation with my trade minister on the ECOWAS common external tariffs. I don’t know how much more trade you can have than that.
“So those who say I don’t have trade, they are mistaken. I think the qualities I have are even better, because I combine development economics with trade knowledge, along with finance, and you need those combination of skills to lead the WTO. I think I have the skills that are needed. I am a trade person,” Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said.
The US had on Wednesday, vetoed the selection of Okonjo-Iweala by 164 member countries of the WTO, preferring to support South korea’s Yoo Myung-hee.
WTO’s spokesman Keith Rockwell said after the delegates meeting on Wednesday that only one member failed to endorse Okonjo-Iweala.
“All of the delegations that expressed their views today expressed very strong support for the process… for the outcome. Except for one,” Rockwell said.
The development has challenged the chance of Okonjo-Iweala to become the first female head of the WTO.
The US has been critical of the organization’s handling of world trade, alleging bias toward China, vowing to continue to support Myung-hee as they believe she has the experience to lead the organization and effect the needed changes more than her Nigerian counterpart.
A statement from the US Trade Representative, which advises President Donald Trump on trade policy said Yoo had “distinguished herself as a trade expert and has all the skills necessary to be an effective leader of the organization.”
It added: “This is a very difficult time for the WTO and international trade. There have been no multilateral tariff negotiations in 25 years, the dispute settlement system has gotten out of control, and too few members fulfill basic transparency obligations. The WTO is badly in need of major reform.”
Trump has been very critical of the WTO, describing it as “horrible” and working to favor China.
Okonjo-Iweala has a 25-year career behind her as a development economist at the World Bank. The 66 year old has been the first female finance minister in her home country Nigeria. 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 Organization’s fight against COVID-19.
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 European Union. All 164 members of WTO were expected to adopt the winner by consensus, in accordance with rule of procedure of the WTO.
The Nigerian government has thrown its support behind Okonjo Iweala. A statement signed by spokesman of Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ferdinand Nwonye, on Friday said “Nigeria will continue to engage relevant stakeholders to ensure that the lofty aspiration of her candidate to lead the World Trade Organization is realized.”
While the US could wield considerable influence in the appointment of WTO’s head, its opposition doesn’t mean Okonjo-Iweala cannot be appointed. The World Trade Organization has scheduled a meeting for Nov. 9 to discuss the matter.