Not the same way: a woman leads the global trade organization

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The World Trade Organization will be headed by a woman for the first time. This decision was made by the General Council of the WTO. Nigeria-born Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was also the first African and first black to serve. The previous US administration of Donald Trump actively opposed her appointment. The former US president threatened to withdraw the country from the WTO if elected. However, Biden’s team supported Okonjo-Iweala’s candidacy.… Details – in the material “Izvestia”.

First time

“Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is one of the most qualified candidates for this post. I am confident that she will perform her duties as well as she coped with many other jobs, “- reacted to the news of the appointment of a 66-year-old compatriot to the post of Director General of the WTO, her former colleague Shamsudin Usman, ex-Minister of National Planning of Nigeria.

Former World Bank President Robert Zoellick, who also worked with Okonjo-Iweala, believes that Ngozi “played a key role in overseeing the Bank’s work to help countries affected by high and volatile food prices.” “Under Ngozi’s leadership, we created a Food Crisis Response Fund to provide quick relief to countries in need. He has helped over 40 million people in 44 countries, ”Zoellick said.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala will become the first woman and the first African representative to lead the WTO. She will start working on March 1. She will hold office until the end of August 2025. Before that, the Brazilian Robert Azevedo was the WTO Director General, but in August last year he decided to resign before the end of his term.

To spite Trump

Ngozi Okonjo was born in 1954 when Nigeria was still a British colony. After 13 years, a civil war broke out in the country, which lasted three years. At the age of 18, a Nigerian woman went to study in the United States. She received an economics degree from Harvard and then completed her master’s thesis at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

At the age of 25, she joined the World Bank. She was rapidly moving up the career ladder, changing professional areas and positions. One day, the President of Nigeria asked her to draw up a plan for the country’s economic reform. Seeing the result, he immediately invited her to head the Ministry of Finance at home. However, she did not want to move from the United States to Nigeria – by that time her husband and four children were used to living in New York. But then Ngozi still decided to fly to Abuja, while her family remained in the United States.

In Nigeria, she was twice the Minister of Finance: from 2003 to 2006 and from 2011 to 2015. It is believed that thanks to her, the country was able to conclude a deal with the Paris Club of creditor countries, as a result, a debt of $ 18 billion was written off from Nigeria – this is about 60% of the country’s total debt to the Paris Club. In addition, she spearheaded reforms to improve macroeconomic governance in Nigeria, and began publishing monthly data on how much money each state received from the federal budget, which made the transfer procedure more transparent.

Ngozi subsequently returned to the World Bank, where she rose to the position of Managing Director. In addition, she serves on the boards of directors of several large corporations, including Danone and Twitter, Standard Chartered Bank, as well as the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) and the African Risk Agency. In 2019, Okonjo-Iweala received American citizenship.

The administration of US President Donald Trump actively opposed the appointment of a Nigerian woman to the post of Director General of the WTO. The politician threatened to withdraw the country from the WTO. Trump’s entourage supported another candidate, the representative of Korea, Yu Mung Hee, believing that the Nigerian woman did not have enough experience in the field of international trade.

However, the new US leadership, headed by Joseph Biden, on the contrary, supported the native of Nigeria. Yoo Moong Hee withdrew her candidacy shortly after Trump left the presidency. However, even Ngozi’s supporters believe that she will have to study the technical aspects of trade negotiations at an accelerated pace.

Quoted herself

Generally The WTO, the global arbiter of trade disputes, goes to Okonjo-Iweala in a rather neglected state. She will have to mediate in international trade negotiations, especially against the backdrop of the ongoing trade war between the United States and China, to deal with reforms of trade rules and to combat the use of protectionist mechanisms that have become especially popular during the coronavirus pandemic.

In recent years, criticism of the WTO has only intensified. The stated goal of the organization is to spread the ideas and principles of free trade, as well as to stimulate economic growth. However, many accuse her of the fact that decisions are often made to please developed countries and multinational companies. In addition, it is believed that at times an organization ignores environmental, health and safety issues in the charter.

Answering a journalist’s question about the upcoming tasks at the post, Okonjo-Iweala joked that her book on reforming ineffectively functioning institutions in Nigeria “Reforming the Unreformable” is quite relevant in the case of today’s WTO.

Chinese disputes

Recently, disputes between many WTO members and China have not subsided. So, at the end of last year, Australian Minister of Trade, Investment and Tourism Simon Birmingham announced that his country would file a complaint with the WTO against China’s actions. The fact is that the Chinese customs officials have suspended some of the Australian supplies of beef, lamb, barley, sugar, copper and coal, claiming that they do not meet the sanitary standards of the PRC. In addition, the country’s authorities have also launched an anti-dumping investigation against Australian wines – Beijing has raised customs duties by 212%.

Relations between the two countries worsened last spring, when Australia called for an international investigation into the occurrence of COVID-19 and name the person responsible for its spread around the world. In addition, Australia, along with the United States, actively criticizes the policy of the Chinese authorities towards the Uyghurs. China’s retaliatory actions prompted Canberra to join the WTO. “Resolution of conflicts within the World Trade Organization is not a perfect procedure and takes more time than might seem necessary,” Birmingham said, adding that nevertheless, under this procedure, “an independent and transparent investigation is taking place.”

In 2018, the United States sharply increased duties on Chinese goods. Beijing applied to the WTO, submitting two lists of goods (their imports were estimated at $ 234 billion). As a result, in mid-September last year, the organization’s arbitrators reported that Washington could not sufficiently substantiate the need for such a rapid increase in duties, and this is contrary to the rules of international trade. The United States, in turn, referred to national legislation that allows it to take action in case of violation of technology transfer rules and to protect intellectual property. However, the WTO issued a verdict, according to which the United States needs to “bring its actions in line with obligations.”

However, the execution of the WTO decision turns out to be a voluntary matter, since at the end of 2019 the United States blocked the process of appointing new arbitrators, as a result, the appellate instance suspended its work. Thus, it turns out that the main dispute settlement body continues to work, and the implementation of its decisions becomes virtually voluntary., since only the decision of the WTO appellate instance is considered final.

The former US president, by the way, criticized the decision of the World Trade Organization. “We will have to do something with the WTO because they allowed China to escape punishment (…) I am not a big fan of this organization, I can tell you that right now. Maybe they did us a great service, “Trump thought.

Under the 45th American president, the United States, amid a trade war with China, seriously considered the possibility of leaving the organization. Trump threatened to do so if the “WTO doesn’t get better with the States.”

“Under Biden, the situation will be similar.”

China is more interested in continuing the normal work of the WTO, said Vasily Kashin, senior researcher at the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the Higher School of Economics, in an interview with Izvestia. “The Chinese have filed numerous lawsuits with the organization, some of which have been granted. Then the dispute resolution mechanism got blocked, and they got stuck on it. But it is clear that the role of this structure will be limited against the background of the struggle waged between China and the United States, ”the Sinologist said.

According to the political scientist, China’s relations with the new administration of Joseph Biden are about as bad as with Donald Trump’s team. For example, the outgoing secretary of state Mike Pompeo accused China of the genocide of the Uighurs. The new head of the State Department, Anthony Blinken, actually repeated this. “There are confrontational relations. The interests of the two countries overlap in the economy, the military sphere, and in the field of technology. As a result, an arms race, a military confrontation, attempts to block China economically, the PRC retaliates. The trade war, in fact, did not stop, the tariffs introduced by Trump were never canceled, ”the expert recalls.

As for the attitude of the Americans to the WTO, according to Victoria Zhuravleva, head of the Center for North American Studies at the IMEMO RAS, the Biden administration takes a fundamentally opposite position. “Trump, and with him the Republican Party, believes that international organizations restrict the work of the United States, so they should stay away from them. A populist factor is also added, suggesting that international organizations are the same evil as governments in general, that they are the international elite violating the rights of a single country. Moreover, in the trade war with China, the United States tried to free its hands as much as possible and change the rules of the game, “the Americanist told Izvestia.

The political scientist notes that the Democrats think differently. They are confident that US leadership is being realized through international organizations. “Democrats believe that the United States, as the country that created these organizations, gets the most out of them and maintains its leadership position through these organizations. Democratic President Barack Obama believed that Washington should be maximally involved in the activities of international organizations. Under Biden there will be a similar situation“, – explained Zhuravleva.