WTO postpones meeting to designate future director general

WTO postpones meeting to designate future director general

Nigerian Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on July 15, 2020 during a press conference in Geneva, Switzerland

© Fabrice Coffrini
Nigerian Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on July 15, 2020 during a press conference in Geneva, Switzerland

The WTO postponed its meeting on Monday in which its members were to try to agree on the appointment of the new director general, which has little hope of success due to the US blockade.

“It has been pointed out to me that, for reasons that include the health situation and current events, delegations will not be able to make a formal decision on November 9,” said the president of the selection committee of the World Trade Organization (WTO). according to a document obtained by the AFP.

“Then I postpone this meeting until further notice, during which time I will continue to consult with the delegations,” he announced.

Eight candidates – five men and three women – were opting for the leadership of the WTO, an institution in crisis and attacked by the United States in the midst of the global economic stagnation.

After a selection process that lasted six months, the committee in charge of the succession of Brazilian Roberto Azevedo, who left a year before the end of his term for family reasons, announced on October 28 that the candidate best placed to be the object of consensus it was Nigerian Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

But the United States – which was in the final stretch of the presidential elections – blocked the way, supporting her rival, South Korean Yoo Myung-hee, her country’s first woman trade minister.

The WTO “must be led by a person with real and practical experience in the field,” explained the US Trade representative, in a clear allusion to the Nigerian woman, who has never been a trade minister.

The US veto plunged the WTO, whose decisions are consensual, into the greatest uncertainty, having been deprived of a chief since Azevedo’s departure in August.

– Biden o Trump –

In recent days, some WTO specialists stressed that countries have little hope of reaching an agreement on the name of the new director general while the White House remains occupied by Donald Trump, a virulent critic of the organization, and several diplomats asked to postpone the meeting.

The postponement “is a good thing,” a European diplomat in Geneva told AFP, under anonymity.

If Democrat Joe Biden is victorious in the close counting of votes in the US presidential elections, that would be “a true symbol of a net break” with the Trump presidency, Dmitry Grozoubinski, head of ExplainTrade, a cabinet of would consult in Geneva and a former Australian trade diplomat.

“There is no use keeping a pulse at the moment. Better to wait for changes to take place,” a Western diplomat told AFP.

Even if Biden occupies the White House, observers at WTO headquarters believe that no decision will be made before the end of January, as the next US president will not take office until January 20.

“I hope that Biden is more favorable to multilateralism,” Peter Ungphakorn, a former member of the staff of the WTO secretariat, told AFP.

In theory a vote is possible, although such a procedure has never been used.

In 1999, due to disagreement, the countries decided to divide the mandate in two, which was divided between the two best-placed candidates.

apo / vog / avz / eg-jz / mis


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