19th December, 2020
Outgoing US President Donald Trump’s trade chief Robert Lighthizer has made the unprecedented suggestion that the World Trade Organisation(WTO) reopen the selection process for a new Director-General.
According to a BBC report, Lighthizer said the WTO needs “someone with real experience in trade”, as he doubled down on the US opposition against Nigeria’s candidate, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who is supported by majority of countries for the job.
The U.S. is backing South Korea’s Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee.
Both Okonjo and Yoo have been left in limbo for more than five weeks as the WTO needs a consensus.
The WTO council in late October suspended final decision on the matter indefinitely, perhaps expecting that a change in White House will resolve the logjam.
The WTO issue will now be one of the most pressing global trade issues that President-elect Joe Biden will have to solve after being sworn in on 20 January 2021.
A spokesperson for Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told the BBC that former World Bank chief has the right experience for the WTO job.
“Dr Okonjo-Iweala looks forward to engaging with the Biden administration and is hopeful that final consensus can soon be reached. The WTO urgently needs to get to work at this time of global crisis,” the spokesperson said.
The BBC reported that If a new Director-General for the WTO is not appointed before Joe Biden’s inauguration as US President on 20 January, it is likely the process will be delayed for several months as a new US trade team is put in place.
That includes Katherine Tai, who has been picked to be Mr Lighthizer’s successor, but needs Congressional approval.
According to Lighthizer, the WTO has “failed to function as a negotiating body”.
He also pinpoints that “massive reform” is needed for the dispute-resolving Appellate Body, which he feels has evolved into a body creating a common law of trade, “taking away benefits” that members had negotiated for “and putting restraint on things that had been conceded”.