WTO: FG Moves To Counter US Position On Okonjo-iweala

 By Yinka Kolawole, with agency report

As the world awaits the outcome of the final consensus decision on the next World Trade Organisation, WTO, there are indications that Nigerian government may have started diplomatic actions to head-off opposition from the United States of America, USA, against the emergence of Nigeria’s Okonjo-Iweala for the job.

A source at the Ministry of Trade and Investment told Vanguard yesterday that the government was taking steps to prevent USA’s opposition from snowballing into adverse swing in the support base for Nigeria’s nominee.

Earlier, Okonjo-Iweala had received endorsement from the majority of the voting members of the WTO giving her a clear lead over the contending candidate, South Korea’s trade minister, Mrs Yoo Myung-hee.

But sources close to the WTO as well as western media outlets have indicated yesterday that the USA was drumming support in favour of Myung-hee, while advancing reasons why Okonjo-Iweala should not get the job.

When contacted by Vanguard yesterday, a top trade ministry source said, “the Ministry was aware of USA’s position long before now and we are not folding our hands”.

He also added, “we are confident that most of the countries that have expressed support would not back out under pressure from USA.”

He declined to give details of what the government was doing to ensure the support of the majority of the WTO Council members.

Okonjo-Iweala emerged winner of the highly competitive race, polling 104 endorsements out of 164 member countries at the final stage of the race earlier this week.

The process of picking WTO’s DG/ Chief Executive is based on consensus building where the voting members are expected to adopt any candidate that commands acceptance of the majority of the voting members.

However, where such consensus was not achieved, the Council members will resort to outright voting with the highest number of votes deciding who gets the job.

The endorsements, which still needs full WTO approval caps a more than four-month selection process involving intensive lobbying.

However, Deputy U.S. Trade Representative, Dennis Shea, said during a meeting of WTO delegates in Geneva yesterday, that his country would not support a consensus decision to appoint Okonjo-Iweala.

All WTO decisions are taken by a consensus of its 164 members, which means the U.S. move will act as a veto that disrupts the process.

The recommendation of Okonjo-Iweala was made by three WTO ambassadors, the so-called “troika”, after consulting with members in a series of closed-door meetings in Geneva as part of an intricate and opaque process that some have compared to a papal succession.

A WTO official said the organisation would continue to push for a consensus ahead of meeting of its General Council tentatively set for November 7, but a decision should be taken before that date whether by consensus or voting.

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