Kayode Oyero

Foremost political economist, Prof Pat Utomi, has said that the incoming administration of US President-elect, Joe Biden, won’t oppose the candidacy of Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in the race for the director general of the World Trade Organisation.

Utomi, who stated this in an exclusive interview with The PUNCH on Monday, said Biden has demonstrated multilateralism and as such would promote inclusion.

“The US under a Biden presidency will be more multilateralist than unilateralist. The attitude to WTO will be slightly different. I don’t see the Biden administration objecting to Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s leadership of the organisation,” he said.

Biden, who would occupy the White House from Wednesday after his inuaguration, has formed the most racially diverse cabinet in history by an American president. The Democrat also appointed at least three Nigerian-Americans into his cabinet, a phenomenally unprecedented development.

Key WTO ambassadors led by New Zealand’s Ambassador David Walker had proposed Okonjo-Iweala, the former Nigerian finance minister, as the best candidate for the job but the United States under outgoing President Donald Trump had opposed her emergence as WTO director general. The Trump presidency instead preferred South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee for the job.

The selection process between the two final candidates was further stalled when New Zealand’s authorities imposed fresh lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus infection amid the second wave of the pandemic.

Some Nigerians have since likened the US opposition to that encountered by African Development Bank chief, Akinwumi Adesina, who also faced intense hostility from Washington before his re-election.

The breakthrough of Adesina, has, however, been a source of hope for many who want Okonjo-Iweala to clinch the top job.

But Utomi said, “The Korean person has already withdrawn and that is part of the dilemma. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is the only candidate right now unless they say start again or something. But let’s watch and see.”

Meanwhile, the Federal Government had said that it was currently reaching out to the United States and other WTO members to clear all bottlenecks to the emergence of Okonjo-Iweala as director-general of the organisation.

The 66-year-old former minister had also said she remained positive of becoming the first African and first female director-general in the 25-year history of the WTO despite ‘hiccups’.

Okonjo-Iweala serves on Twitter’s board of directors, as chair of the GAVI vaccine alliance as well as a special envoy for the World Health Organisation’s COVID-19 fight.

A final decision would be made by the 164 member states of the WTO on who becomes the next DG of the global trade and dispute settlement organisation. The council is expected to meet shortly after Biden’s inuaguration of January 20.

Source.. PUNCH

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