The World Trade Organisation (WTO) is postponing a meeting next week where members were to try to pick a new director-general.
There is almost no chance of succeeding in picking a new chief after Washington blocked the favoured candidate, Nigeria’s former finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
The General Council meeting scheduled for 9 November to consider the appointment of the next WTO Director-General has been postponed. Ambassador David Walker, the chair of the General Council, informed members of the decision on 6 November.
The WTO’s 164 member states had been due to gather Monday to choose between two remaining candidates to head the crisis-wracked organisation.
I am, therefore, postponing this meeting until further notice during which period I will continue to undertake consultations with delegations,” he added.
The WTO selection committee, known as the troika, has held months of consultations with members towards finding a replacement for Roberto Azevedo, who in August stepped down as director-general a year ahead of schedule.
After gradually whittling down the initial list of eight candidates, the troika last week tapped Nigeria’s former finance minister as the one most likely to obtain the needed consensus to take the helm.
But hopes that the final stage would be a simple rubber-stamping exercise were dashed when one country, the United States, announced it was intent on backing South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee instead.
The US announcement threw the WTO leadership hunt into uncertainty.
In recent days, many observers have stressed member states had little chance of agreeing on a new director-general as long as Donald Trump, perhaps WTO’s most fervent critic, remains in the White House, and have urged a delay.
“They are right, this is a good thing,” an European diplomat in Geneva told AFP following the announcement that the meeting would be postponed.
In theory, the members could toss out the consensus principle and turn to a vote, but such a procedure has never been attempted in practice at the WTO.
In 1999, when members were unable to unanimously choose who should be given four years at the helm, they opted to hand the two top picks a three-year mandate each instead of resorting to a vote.
FULL STATEMENT ON POSTPONEMENT
As you know, at the meeting of Heads of Delegation on 28 October, in accordance with the Procedures for the Appointment of Directors-General adopted by the General Council and contained in WT/L/509 and the agreed modalities for Phase 3 of the process in JOB/GC/243, I and the Facilitators – Ambassador Dacio Castillo, Chair of the Dispute Settlement Body and Ambassador Harald Aspelund, Chair of the Trade Policy Review Body – reported the outcome of the third and final round of consultations in the process of appointment of the next Director-General and announced that we were submitting the name of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the candidate most likely to attract consensus and recommending her appointment by the General Council as the next Director-General of the WTO. My statement can be found in JOB/GC/247.
I also announced that a Special Meeting of the General Council would be convened to take a formal decision on the appointment of the next Director-General and a meeting was subsequently convened for 9 November for this purpose with an Airgram circulated to delegations in WTO/AIR/GC/33 which, as you have seen, contains a single item concerning the Appointment of the
It has come to my attention that for reasons including the health situation and current events, delegations will not be in a position to take a formal decision on 9 November.
I am therefore postponing this meeting until further notice during which period I will continue to undertake consultations with delegations.