In a last minute move that took the world by surprise the United States representative at World Trade Organization, took to the floor to insist that South Korea’s candidate remained a contender, and that Washington will not recognise Okonjo-Iweala as the consensus candidate for appointment as director-general.
In response to the development, the General Counsel has postponed its announcement of the new Director-General until a further meeting, which is scheduled for 9 November; after the US presidential elections.
A panel at the WTO had recommended the former Nigerian Finance Minister for the position on Wednesday.
In a release made available to the media in Geneva, the US said Iweala’s opponent, Korean Minister Yee was a bona fide trade expert who had distinguished her self in a career spaning 25 years, while describing Iweala, as lacking in requisite experience.
Iweala had won the support from the vast majority of member states, including the African group, EU, Japan and China, but not the United States.
Many experts say the United States opposition has exposed Washington’s seeming arrogance and contempt for multilateralism and refusing a voice for developing countries in international affairs under the Trump Administration.
The say the block support for Iweala stemmed from her sterling qualifications and a resistance to US arrogance and bullying.
Though Americas veto cannot be treated with kid gloves, there are indications that many of the countries supporting the former World Bank top shot, may call the US bluff and jettison the consensus tradition, as the WTO constitution provides for voting by member countries to elect a Director General.
If Iweala eventually triumphs she will have to lead the charge for a revival of multilateralism, in the negotiating chambers of the WTO and for a better deal for developing economies, as well as reforming trade and patent rules that can allow the distribution of life saving vaccines and therapeutics as the coronavirus pandemic rips across the world on its second wave.
As the first woman and African to head the trade body, Okonjo-Iweala will be shattering a couple of ceilings at the same time. She also has a chance to put Africa’s plans to build the world’s biggest free trade area on the top table, pointing to the productive and market opportunities on the continent.