US wants WTO DG race reopened — suggests Okonjo-Iweala lacks experience

The United States (US) has suggested that the process to find a new director-general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) needs to be reopened, BBC is reporting.

Donald Trump’s trade representative Robert Lighthizer told the BBC on Wednesday that the WTO needs “someone with real experience in trade”.

Despite widespread support from 110 out of 164 member countries of WTO, the US is doubling down on its rejection of Ms Okonjo-Iweala, a former Nigerian minister of finance and former managing director (MD) of the World Bank.

The WTO operates based on consensus, that is, if one country opposes a candidate, a final decision cannot be made.

President Trump’s top official on trade, Robert Lighthizer’s remarks on Wednesday to the BBC confirm that there is no way the Trump administration will be persuaded to back the Nigerian ex-finance minister in its remaining weeks in office.

He said the WTO is “massively in need of reform”, especially its dispute-resolving appellate body, which according to him, 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”.

The appellate body of the WTO has been rendered inactive by Donald Trump’s administration vetoing the appointment of new judges.

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

“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 its an organisation that started off as a good idea and basically isn’t functioning very well, but I think that can be sorted out also.”

Robert Lighthizer Next to Donal Trump at a press conference
Robert Lighthizer Next to Donald Trump at a press conference

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

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on her part has insisted she is the right person for the job and has the right experience with both trade and delivering reform. Her spokesperson told the BBC: “Dr Okonjo-Iweala looks forward to engaging with the Biden administration and is hopeful that final consensus can soon be reached. The WTO urgently needs to get to work at this time of global crisis.”



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