The race to find a new leader of the World Trade Organization witnessed a change in strategy after the cancellation of a key appointment meeting following the US presidential election.
The Geneva-based WTO, which acts as an international arbiter for trading disputes put off a meeting scheduled for Monday that had been called to appoint Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as its next director general.
President Donald Trump’s administration opposed Okonjo-Iweala’s selection in one of its final acts before the US election, despite the former Nigerian finance minister securing the overwhelming backing of the WTO’s 164 members.
The special meeting of the trade body’s general council had been convened to take a formal decision on the appointment. Officials had been set to put forward Okonjo-Iweala as the candidate most likely to attract a majority, after 163 of 164 members expressed a preference for her over South Korea’s Yoo Myung-hee.
Okonjo-Iweala had moved a step closer to becoming the first woman and the first African to be director of the global trade watchdog after securing backing from the EU, China, Japan and Australia.
Trade experts said Joe Biden defeating Trump in last week’s election may have led to countries calling for a delay in the WTO leadership race, with the aim of securing the Biden White House’s backing for Okonjo-Iweala after he takes charge in January.
The delay in selecting a new WTO director general comes at a fragile moment for the world economy amid the second wave of Covid-19, and after years of criticism of the WTO and calls for reform from Trump.
The WTO said the meeting would be postponed until further notice, during which time the organisation would continue undertaking consultations with delegations from countries around the world to pick a new leader.
It said in a statement: “For reasons including the health situation and current events, delegations will not be in a position to take a formal decision on 9 November.”
Lillian Jijingi with agency report