BREAKDOWN: Okonjo-Iweala considers resigning from WTO, denies any interest in running for 2023 presidency

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Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the leader of the World Trade Organization (WTO), started the year with a plan to win swift negotiations that she said would help revive the dysfunctional Geneva-based trade body.

Now, seven months after the start of his 4.5-year term, Okonjo-Iweala has fully grasped the frustrating reality of the historic inertia of the WTO, even privately launching the idea of ​​resigning if no progress is made. ‘is found on critical issues, according to five of the officials in Geneva who declined to be identified, according to Bloomberg.

This year, Okonjo-Iweala has repeatedly told ambassadors and staff that she can easily leave her post and reminded them that she has not purchased any furniture for her temporary home in Geneva, officials said.

An early departure of the top trade official from the WTO would add yet another layer of chaos to an organization suffering from an existential crisis that could lead governments to conclude that the WTO is not a credible forum to meet their challenges common.

“Absolutely ridiculous”

Deep divisions and lack of confidence are not new to the WTO, which requires consensus among 164 members to finalize multilateral agreements.

The rigid negotiating structure of the WTO and the disparate interests of its various members have kept the organization from delivering anything substantive for much of the past decade.

Last year, Okonjo-Iweala’s predecessor – Roberto Azevedo – cited lack of progress at the WTO as his main reason for resigning from the organization a year before his term expires.

Some Geneva business officials have told Bloomberg News they suspect Okonjo-Iweala of wanting to run in the 2023 presidential election in his native Nigeria.

Okonjo-Iweala did not comment on his threats to resign, but denied any interest in running for the Nigerian presidency, calling the speculation “totally ridiculous and false” in a statement to Bloomberg News.

“I just got here. I love what I do,” she told Bloomberg News in a TV interview. “It’s a very exciting job and I’m trying to have some success here. ”

Political heavyweight

WTO members chose Okonjo-Iweala to be their top trade official on the premise that his energy, ministerial experience and political influence could provide the kind of leadership needed to shake up the besieged trade organization.

Okonjo-Iweala arrived with the qualifications of a political heavyweight. With her experience as a former development economist, senior World Bank alumnus and former director of the GAVI vaccine alliance, she is among the most qualified to lead the organization’s efforts to cope. to the Covid-19 vaccine crisis.

Her star has been rising steadily since becoming Director-General of the WTO and her interest in vaccine equity has placed her at the center of one of the most heated international debates in the world. era of pandemic.

This month, she was shortlisted for the cover of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People.

Key ministerial meeting

The real test of Okonjo-Iweala’s leadership will come in November, when it hosts the 12th Ministerial Conference of the WTO – a meeting of the organization’s highest decision-making body.

To date, WTO members have failed to make significant progress in the three priority areas identified by Okonjo-Iweala for potential outcomes at the biennial meeting: an agreement to reduce harmful subsidies to the environment. peach ; a commitment to reduce agricultural policies that distort trade; and

and a framework for expanding global trade in vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics.

It is not for lack of trying. It has organized a large number of high-level meetings, talks and ministerial-level events aimed at rallying WTO members to reach consensus agreements.

Two months before the ministerial meeting, business and government representatives are increasingly pessimistic about the ability of WTO members to agree to anything. Nonetheless, they continue to support Okonjo-Iweala’s efforts and encourage her to carry out her work.

“The idea of ​​Dr Ngozi resigning early would be anathema to the business community,” International Chamber of Commerce secretary general John Denton said in an interview. “We have supported its forward-looking program, we want it to engage and maintain it.

“We see no reason why she would even think about terminating her tenure and frankly – she made it clear to us that she was not.”

(Bloomberg)

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