Robert Lighthizer, US President, Donald Trump’s Trade chief has suggested a reopening of the process to find a new Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), an unprecedented move that will surely be a blow to Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo Iweala.
The US opposes former World Bank economist Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala for the job, and considering that the US owns the dollar as is a major player in world trade, a candidate not supported by the US has a very low chance of assuming the role.
Donald Trump’s trade chief Robert Lighthizer speaking to the BBC said that the WTO needs “someone with real experience in trade”.
Robert Lighthizer’s also said that there is no way the Trump administration will be persuaded to back the Nigerian ex-finance minister in its remaining weeks in office.
Mr 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 also pinpoints that “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,” he 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.”
“Effective multilateral cooperation to lower barriers to trade is urgently needed to help jumpstart the global economy and recover from the pandemic,” he says. “That requires creative leadership from an honest broker in the role of director-general.”
The doubling down by Lighthizer on the rejection of Mrs Okonjo-Iweala, despite widespread support from other countries, might be a major issue Joe Biden will have to solve when becomes US President in January.
The other finalist for the job is South Korea’s Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee She and Iweala have been left in limbo for more than five weeks on their fate.
If a new Director-General is not appointed before Joe Biden’s inauguration as US President on 20 January, it is likely the process will be delayed for several months after Biden takes over because Biden has chosen Katherine Tai, as Mr Lighthizer’s successor, but will need Congressional approval which will be difficult if Republicans maintain control of the Senate in the January Senate elections.
The WTO plays a crucial role in brokering trade deal and upholding international trade law, however it has been without a leader since Roberto Azevedo resigned in August, saying someone else would be better placed to deliver the needed reforms.
If Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala clinches the role she will be the first Nigerian and African head of the World Trade Organization.