The United States has reportedly expressed its opposition to the emergence of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation, WTO, despite polling 104 votes from 164 member countries to defeat South Korea’s Trade Minister.
Recall that Mrs Okonjo-Iweala was billed for an announcement as the new WTO director-general on Wednesday, but the heads of delegation failed to reach a consensus after meeting by 3pm.
Despite being an American citizen, sources say the US does not consider Mrs Okonjo-Iweala as being committed enough to the interests of the world power at the flagship trade body.
Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Dennis Shea said Washington won’t join a consensus to appoint Okonjo-Iweala because the U.S. supports her opponent, South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee, according to WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer had pushed for Yoo even though Okonjo-Iweala gained American citizenship in 2019.
Sources close to him told Bloomberg that he views Mrs Okonjo-Iweala, a longtime top official at the World Bank, as being too close to pro-trade internationalists like Robert Zoellick, a former USTR from the Bush administration who worked with her when he was president of the Washington-based bank.
The U.S.’s lone resistance to the majority-backed Okonjo-Iweala opens the possibility of months of gridlock over the selection process and more diplomatic friction with trading partners like the European Union.
“I’m surprised and disappointed in the U.S. reaction,” said William Reinsch, a trade official in the Clinton administration and senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “I had hoped Lighthizer would have more respect for the institution than that.”
WTO decisions are made by a consensus of its 164 members, which means a single country — especially the world’s largest economy — can create a stalemate to pressure others. The Geneva-based institution will keep working to reach a consensus ahead of the meeting of the General Council tentatively set for Nov. 9.
Unlike the World Bank where the US has a larger voting power than other countries, the WTO is run differently, by the consensus of every member country.
“The WTO is run by its member governments. All major decisions are made by the membership as a whole,” the WTO website reads.
“In this respect, the WTO is different from some other international organizations such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
“Where consensus is not possible, the WTO agreement allows for voting — a vote being won with a majority of the votes cast and on the basis of ‘one country, one vote’.”