The appointment of Nigeria’s ex-finance minister to lead the World Trade Organization (WTO) has been thrown into uncertainty after the US opposed the move.
On Wednesday, a WTO nominations committee recommended the group’s 164 members appoint Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
She would be the first woman and first African to lead the WTO.
But the US, wants another woman, South Korea’s Yoo Myung-hee to head the WTO, saying she could reform the body.
The four-month selection process to find the next WTO director-general was stalled when Washington said it would continue to back South Korea’s trade minister.
In a statement critical of the WTO, the Office of the US Trade Representative, which advises President Donald Trump on trade policy, said the organisation “must be led by someone with real, hands-on experience in the field”.
Ms Yoo had “distinguished herself” as a trade expert and “has all the skills necessary to be an effective leader of the organisation”, the statement said.
It added: “This is a very difficult time for the WTO and international trade. There have been no multilateral tariff negotiations in 25 years, the dispute settlement system has gotten out of control, and too few members fulfill basic transparency obligations. The WTO is badly in need of major reform.”
Earlier on Wednesday, after a WTO delegates meeting to discuss the appointment, spokesman Keith Rockwell said just one member country did not support Ms Okonjo-Iweala.
“All of the delegations that expressed their views today expressed very strong support for the process… for the outcome. Except for one,” he said.
The WTO has called a meeting for 9 November – after the US presidential election – to discuss the issue. US opposition does not mean the Nigerian cannot be appointed, but Washington could nevertheless wield considerable influence over the final decision.
Mr Rockwell told reporters there was likely to be “frenzied activity” to secure a consensus for Ms Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment. She has the support of the European Union.
The leadership void was created after outgoing WTO chief Roberto Azevedo stepped down a year early in August. The WTO is currently being steered by four deputies.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is a Nigerian-born economist and international development expert. She sits on the Boards of
Standard Chartered Bank, Twitter, Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), and the African Risk Capacity (ARC).
Okonjo-Iweala had a 25-year career at the World Bank in Washington DC as a development economist, rising to the No. 2 position of Managing Director.
Okonjo served as her Nigeria’s first female finance and foreign minister and has a 25-year career behind her as a development economist at the World Bank.
During her first term as Minister of Finance under President Olusegun Obasanjo’s Administration, she spearheaded negotiations with the Paris Club that led to the wiping out of US$30 billion of Nigeria’s debt, including the outright cancellation of US$18 billion.