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Fresh hurdle for Okonjo- Iweala, as Trump trade chief wants WTO leadership race reopened

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The US has suggested that the process to find a new Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) needs to be reopened, in what would be an unprecedented move.

Donald Trump’s trade chief Robert Lighthizer told the BBC on Wednesday that the WTO needs “someone with real experience in trade”.

The US opposes former World Bank economist Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala for the job.

A consensus still hasn’t been reached.

The doubling down on the rejection of Ms Okonjo-Iweala, despite widespread support from other countries, escalates one of the most pressing global trade issues Joe Biden will have to solve as US President.

The other finalist for one of the top jobs in international trade is South Korea’s Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee, and the pair have been left in limbo for more than five weeks.

President Trump’s top official on trade, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer’s remarks on Wednesday to the BBC in his first international interview confirm that there is no way the Trump administration will be persuaded to back the Nigerian ex-finance minister in its remaining weeks in office.

The impasse at the WTO comes at a sensitive time for global trade, which has suffered because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala insists she is the right person for the job and has the right experience with both trade and delivering reform. Her spokesperson told the BBC: “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.”

READ ALSO: WTO: Why US should support Okonjo-Iweala

A new leader is seen as crucial for achieving meaningful change. Mr Lighthizer said the WTO “is massively in need of reform”, adding “we need to start making headway” on that process.

If a new Director-General 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.

Mr Biden may also embark on a widespread review of US trade policy, as dozens of industry groups are urging him to do. But he has said he doesn’t plan to immediately remove any of the tariffs Mr Trump imposed on China, and which the WTO has judged to be “inconsistent” with international trade rules.

Culled from BBC

Vanguard News Nigeria

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