Wednesday the United States they blocked the appointment of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former minister of finance of Nigeria, as director general of the World Trade Organization (WTO), despite the almost complete support of the other 164 member states. The WTO has been without a boss for several months, since former CEO Roberto Azevêdo stepped down last May a year before his term ended and was hired as vice president of PepsiCo, the food and beverage company. . After Azevêdo’s resignation, the WTO was supposed to appoint an interim director general, but the United States blocked his appointment.
The negotiations for the appointment of a successor to Azevêdo have been going on for months. The candidates were initially eight, but long negotiation sessions, largely behind closed doors, have reduced their number to two: Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Yoo Myung-hee, the current Minister of Commerce of South Korea. In the 25 years of existence of the WTO, the appointment of the director general has always been by consensus, without the need for official votes. On Wednesday, after a long series of consultations with delegates from various countries, the head of the WTO General Council, New Zealand’s David Walker, announced that Okonjo-Iweala was the “consensus candidate”, the one with the most support of all members of the organization. According to internal sources feel from Guardian, Okonjo-Iweala has the support of the Caribbean countries, Africa, the European Union, China, Japan and Australia.
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Under normal circumstances, this means that at the next meeting of all delegations (it will be November 9), Okonjo-Iweala would be appointed as the WTO general manager. But the United States, shortly after Walker’s announcement, made it known that they will not support the Nigerian candidate, and that they will indeed veto her nomination. The US opposition is very heavy, because it completely blocks the nomination process and leaves the WTO without a leader. According to the rules of the organization, it is possible that in case of lack of consent the general director of the WTO will be chosen on the basis of a majority vote. This would allow Okonjo-Iweala to take office, but his mandate would be seriously compromised, both because his appointment would be the first to be approved by vote and because it would be made in direct opposition to the world‘s leading economy.
It is still unclear whether the United States has vetoed it because it prefers South Korean Myung-hee to Okonjo-Iweala (Politico a few days ago had access to some diplomatic cables that would indicate American support for Myung-hee) or if that of the administration led by President Donald Trump is yet another move to boycott an international organization.
Donald Trump has been critical of the WTO since the beginning of his presidency: for him, the organization is one of the many multilateral bodies that have harmed the interests of the United States abroad, and which must therefore be heavily reformed or dismantled. . The US administration’s focus on the WTO is particular due to Trump’s focus on trade deals. The veto against Okonjo-Iweala is not the administration’s first boycott of the WTO. In fact, since the beginning of Trump’s mandate, the United States has opposed the appointment of judges of the Court of Appeal, that is, the body that resolves trade disputes between states. As judges’ mandates expired and the United States blocked their replacement, the Court found itself with fewer and fewer members until last December, there was only one left: not enough to issue sentences. In this way, the United States has practically blocked the main function of the WTO.
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In the following months the organization tried to loosen the blockade, in some cases resorting to parallel offices, and managed to settle some issues, such as one between the United States and the European Union on airlines. But due to the American boycott, a substantial part of the work was blocked. The appointment of a new director general with a strong mandate was supposed to help give new strength to the WTO, but the Trump administration has blocked that as well for now.
In reality, the WTO has never been a particularly productive organization. In 25 years of history, he wrote l’Economist, has only managed to negotiate a major global trade deal, and the last time it tried, in 2015 with the so-called “Doha RoundIt was a failure. The main reason is that, just like for the appointment of the CEO, decisions on big trade deals must be made with the consent of all, and getting 164 states to agree is virtually impossible. The United States also argues that the WTO is unable to sanction economies such as that of China, which makes extensive use of state aid and which enjoys considerable advantages because it is considered by the organization as a “developing economy. “.
The discontent with the organization is not exclusive to the political side linked to Trump. In the US Congress, the idea of quitting the WTO is popular with both Democrats and Republicans, like he wrote Foreign Policy a few months ago. This spring, Democratic Congressman Peter DeFazio introduced a bill on the matter, and so did Republican Senator Josh Hawley with a resolution. Hawley also wrote in May an opinion article very hard on New York Times, in which he argues that the WTO should be abolished.
The WTO is not the only international organization contested by the Trump administration. As is known, in July 2020 the United States they withdrew by the World Health Organization, even if, given the obligation of notice, the withdrawal will be effective after one year, in July 2021. One of the first acts of his presidency, moreover, was to leave the TPP, Trans-Pacific Partnership, a regulation and investment project between nations bordering the Pacific Ocean that was conceived by his predecessor, Barack Obama. Trump is critical of NATO and the European Union, which on some occasions he has described as “worse than China».
Between now and November 9, the day of the meeting with delegates from all countries, WTO officials will continue to hold meetings to try to negotiate a common position. Much could depend on the outcome of the US election, which will be on the 3rd of the month: Joe Biden, the Democratic candidate, is much less critical than Trump when it comes to international cooperation, and could make things easier for the WTO.