Okonjo-Iweala faces new hurdle in bid to be WTO DG – Report


The World Trade Organisation’s effort to select a new director-general next week could be delayed for at least another month because of the rapid spread of COVID-19 in Switzerland, according to Bloomberg News.

On Sunday, Geneva’s cantonal authorities announced strict new lockdown measures amid a surge in infections and hospitalisations in the Swiss city. From November 2 until November 29, the area will prohibit public and private events of more than five people.

More European countries including France, England, Germany, Spain have also imposed different curbs amid a new COVID-19 surge in the region.

The development could further disrupt the WTO’s ability to confirm Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the first African and first woman to lead the organisation in its 25-year history.

While some in-person meetings may become virtual, senior WTO officials are discussing whether to postpone their plan to make a formal decision on Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment at a general council meeting currently scheduled for November 9 at the WTO’s headquarters in Geneva.

WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell did not immediately respond to requests for comment, Bloomberg reported.

The potential delay of next week’s meeting is neither the only nor the greatest hurdle to Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment to be director-general.

On October 28, the Trump administration said it would oppose her bid because the US preferred South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee for the job. Yoo has refused to withdraw from the race and has not responded to Bloomberg’s requests for comment.

The US unilaterally opposed Okonjo-Iweala despite the fact that the WTO selection committee determined she “clearly carried the largest support by members” and “clearly enjoyed broad support from members from all levels of development and from all geographic regions.”

The US move has disrupted the leadership race because all WTO decisions are made by a consensus of its 164 members, which means a single country – in this case the US – can oppose a decision for any reason.

Meanwhile, Okonjo-Iweala, who has been the chair of Board of Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation since January 2016, said her experience with the vaccine body would be an added advantage as countries seek to produce vaccines for the coronavirus.

The former Nigerian Finance Minister also tweeted last week that she remained positive of getting into the office despite ‘hiccups’.

She wrote, “Happy for the success & continued progress of our @wto DG bid. Very humbled to be declared the candidate with the largest, broadest support among members & most likely to attract consensus.

“We move on to the next step on Nov 9, despite hiccups. We’re keeping the positivity going!”

The Federal Government also said it will continue to engage relevant stakeholders to ensure that the lofty aspiration of her candidate to lead the WTO is realised.
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