US maintains opposition to Okonjo-Iweala’s bid for WTO D-G

The United States has continued to oppose Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s bid to become the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), suggesting that the process to finding a new D-G needs to be reopened.

In an interview with BBC News on Friday, December 18, Robert Lightizer, the U.S Trade Chief said that the WTO needs “someone with real experience in trade,” a clear indication the U.S does not see Okonjo-Iweala as being capable of leading the organization.

Lighthizer confirmed that there was no way the Trump administration would be persuaded to back the former Nigerian Finance Minister in its remaining weeks in office.

In the interview, Lighthizer said the WTO, “is massively in need of reform,” adding that the US needs to “start making headway” on that process.

According to Lighthizer, the WTO has, “failed to function as a negotiating body.”

He added that “a massive reform” is needed for the dispute-resolving appellate body, which he feels has evolved into a body creating a common law of trade, “taking away benefits” that members had negotiated for, and putting restraint on things that had been conceded.”

“I think there’s a consensus developing at the WTO that we need the appellate body reform.

“We need to start negotiating again; we need to start making headway. So, I’m glad you brought up the WTO, it’s been clearly a focus for us and to us it’s an organization that started off as a good idea and basically isn’t functioning very well, but I think that can be sorted out also.

“Effective multilateral cooperation to lower barriers to trade is urgently needed to help jumpstart the global economy and recover from the pandemic.

“That requires creative leadership from an honest broker in the role of Director-General.”

Apart from Lightizer, a WTO expert at the Cato Institute in Washington, Simon Lester, also told the BBC Okonjo-Iweala does not have the capacity to lead the organization.

“If the Biden administration can trade off support for Ngozi for political capital on other reforms, that certainly seems like a good idea.

“We need to be aligned with the other democracies so that we can set the rules of the road instead of having China and others dictate outcomes,” Lester said.

This is not the first time the U.S had openly opposed the choice of the former MD of the World Bank who has been endorsed by majority of member nations of the WTO.

The doubling down on the rejection of Okonjo-Iweala, despite widespread support from other countries, is likely to escalate one of the most pressing global trade issues Joe Biden will have to solve as US President.

Meanwhile, the other finalist for one of the top jobs in international trade, South Korea’s Trade Minister, Yoo Myung-hee, has also been left in limbo for more than five weeks, not knowing what her fate would be in the long run.

The impasse at the WTO comes at a sensitive time for global trade, which has suffered because of the coronavirus pandemic.