US blocks appointment of frontrunner for WTO top job dashing hopes of a consensus

Thu 29 Oct 2020
Posted by: William Barns-Graham
Trade News


The US is blocking the appointment of the frontrunner in the race to lead the World Trade Organization (WTO) but it is unclear whether it is doing so as an act of deliberate sabotage.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala from Nigeria has now received the backing of the majority of WTO members, including the EU and Japan. 

The US, however, continues to throw its weight behind South Korean trade minister, Yoo Myung-hee.

US backs Yoo

Okonjo-Iweala has emerged as the WTO’s favoured pick from the two remaining candidates and her appointment would give the WTO both its first female and African leader.

However, the US trade representative released a statement saying that the White House continues to back Yoo Myung-hee, who it describes as a “bona fide trade expert” with “hands-on experience in the field”, the FT reports.

Unclear motives

It is unclear whether the US is backing the South Korean as an act of deliberate sabotage, according to the Guardian.

The US has form for blocking key appointments at the WTO having vetoed appointments to the organisation’s critical Appellate Body, which rules on trade disputes.

President Trump has consistently spoken out against the WTO since entering the White House and US trade representative Robert Lighthizer recently called the body a “mess” which was in need of a “reset”.

Consensual approach

The WTO general council meets on 9 November to make its recommendation for the director general post.

Although the WTO’s constitution allows for a vote on the decision, former appointments have usually been reached through consensus.

Sources in Geneva, where the WTO is based, said the election of Joe Biden as president next week could yet help pave the way for a trouble-free accession for Okonjo-Iweala.