A former Nigerian minister of finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, on Wednesday won the overwhelming support of the World Trade Organisation’s 164 members.
However, Mrs Okonjo-Iweala’s chances of being declared the next director general of the trade body suffered setbacks as the United States failed to endorse her for the top job.
The UK Guardian reported that Mrs Okonjo-Iweala moved a step closer to becoming the first woman and the first African to be director of the global trade watchdog as she secured the support of a key group of trade ambassadors in Geneva.
The newspaper reported that details taken by the selection panel of three trade ministers found the former Nigerian minister had far more support than her South Korean rival.
Mrs Okonjo-Iweala is reportedly being backed by countries in Africa, the Caribbean, the European Union, China, Japan and Australia.
On Wednesday, however, reports said her candidacy failed to win the support of the United States, which raised last-minute objections to the process by which the new director general was being picked.
Ideally, the WTO chooses its director general by consensus, with all 164 members having to approve a candidate.
But the US is said to be unhappy with the way the trade body is being run.
A spokesperson for the WTO on Wednesday said Mrs Okonjo-Iweala’s candidacy would be put to a meeting of the body’s governing general council on November 9, suggesting there would be negotiations to secure consensus among members.
Since inception, every director general of the trade body has been appointed by consensus. In the event that the United States maintains that it will not support Mrs Okonjo-Iweala, the WTO’s constitution does eventually provide for a vote.
Trade experts told The Guardian that life would be difficult if an appointment was made against the wishes of the U.S. but there are speculations that Washington’s position may be affected by the result of next week’s presidential election.
On its Twitter page Wednesday evening, the WTO said its General Council Chair David Walker has reported on the results of the consultations to appoint the next WTO Director General.
After the meeting, WTO spokesperson Keith Rockwell summed up the announcement by GC Chair Walker: “The candidate that had the best chance of attaining a consensus of the membership is Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria.”
The trade body added that consultations on the way forward will start immediately.
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