United States says it does not support Nigerian candidate as next WTO chief

© WTO/Jay Louvion

The WTO leadership bid took a tumultuous turn on Wednesday after the United States vetoed the organisation’s recommendation to appoint Nigerian Ngozi Onkonjo-Iweala as its next director-general.

At a heads of delegation meeting in Geneva, WTO’s “troika” - the heads of its three highest bodies leading the process - put forward the former Nigerian finance minister as the preferred candidate to lead the organisation, over South Korea’s Yoo Myung-hee.

The decision was based on a series of consultations with all 164 member states over the last 10 days, from which Okonjo-Iweala was seen as having the broadest base of support.

However, the US told the informal meeting on Wednesday that it could not support the consensus decision. In another unprecedented move, the Republic of Korea refused to withdraw its candidacy as is custom after a preferred candidate has been named.

The member state reportedly abstained from withdrawing its candidate at the request of the US, according to a trade official familiar with the matter, who wished to remain anonymous.

This is the first time in the WTO’s history that a consensus has been blocked. Where consensus is not possible, the WTO agreement does allow for voting — a vote being won with a majority of the votes cast. However, it has never been used and is considered as a last resort.

The troika, led by General Council chair New Zealand’s David Walker, will reconvene a formal meeting on 9 November.