After the United States tried to block the appointment of Nigeria’s ex-finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the chief of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in October, the Trump administration has suggested that it wants the race for the leadership reopened. US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on Wednesday told BBC that the WTO needs “someone with real experience in trade”, adding that the organisation dealing with international trade “is massively in need of reform.”
The deadlock at the WTO comes at a time when the global trade is struggling to overcome the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The WTO plays an important role as a negotiating body and regulating international trade. The Appellate Body of the organisation, comprised of seven persons, hears appeals from reports issued by panels in disputes brought on by WTO members. However, the Trump administration has been vetoing the appointment of new judges to the Appellate Body as well.
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Why the US wants the WTO leadership race reopened?
WTO nominations committee had recommended the members to appoint Okonjo-Iweala, who enjoys widespread support from other countries, as the next Director-General. She would be the first woman and first African to lead the organisation. However, the office of the US Trade Representative lent its support to South Korean trade minister Yoo Myung-hee as the next WTO Director-General.
In a statement critical of the WTO, the US Trade Representative office had said that there have been no multilateral tariff negotiations in 25 years. It complained about the dispute settlement system, saying it has gotten “out of control”. It also lamented that many of the WTO members have failed to fulfil “basic transparency obligations.”
“The WTO is badly in need of major reform. It must be led by someone with real, hands-on experience in the field,” the statement read.
The Trump administration believes minister Yoo is a “bona fide trade expert” and has all the skills necessary to be an “effective leader” of the organisation. The appointment process is likely to be delayed for several months if the new WTO Director-General is not appointed before the inauguration of US President-elect Joe Biden.