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World Trade Organization to elect new chief


World Trade Organization to elect new chief

Photo: Xinhua

The World Trade Organization’s (WTO) General Council will meet today to elect its next director-general. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former Nigerian finance minister, is expected to win the position.

The WTO, which regulates and promotes global trade, has lacked a permanent director-general since Roberto Azevêdo resigned in August amid the organisation’s increasing entanglement in US-China trade disputes. The selection process requires zero objections from members.

The Trump administration had repeatedly blocked Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment to WTO head, arguing that she was soft on unfair Chinese trade practices, preferring South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee instead. Nevertheless, Yoo resigned from the race on February 5, leaving Okonjo-Iweala unopposed. The Biden administration has announced its “strong support” for her candidacy, ensuring her ascendance to the director-generalship.

Expect Okonjo-Iweala to secure the nomination now that she enjoys US, EU and Chinese support. She will have to move quickly to combat growing protectionism, a trend antithetical to the WTO’s free trade principles and one exacerbated by the decline in global trade during the COVID-19 pandemic. This will require undoing the growing mistrust between wealthy and developing WTO members. Equally daunting will be her role in mediating tense US-China trade relations.

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