WTO Director-General candidates — Nigeria’s Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and the United Kingdom’s Dr. Liam Fox generate potential controversy

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Nigeria)

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is Nigeria’s candidate to become the next Director-General. When she was put forward by the Nigerian government her biographical sketch submitted did not contain information on her having also become a citizen of the United States in 2019. Her biography as available from the WTO webpage is embedded below.


In the highly politicized atmosphere that characterizes the current dysfunction at the WTO, omitting her U.S. citizenship may become a liability to Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s chances of becoming the next Director-General. Chinese and other news reports raise that very issue. See, e.g., South China Morning Post, September 4, 2020, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s US passport will not help her chances in WTO leadership race, Chinese trade experts say, https://www.scmp.com/economy/global-economy/article/3100280/ngozi-okonjo-iwealas-us-passport-will-not-help-her-chances; Naija247News, September 2, 2020 (posting a Bloomberg News piece), WTO Hopeful Economist Okonjo-Iweala Balances Nigeria, U.S. Citizenships, https://naija247news.com/2020/09/02/wto-hopeful-economist-okonjo-iweala-balances-nigeria-u-s-citizenships/#.X1OeZ5PsZ9A.

The Rt Hon Dr. Liam Fox MP (United Kingdom)

In an article earlier this week, Inside U.S. Trade reported that Dr. Fox had indicated that the next Director-General should prioritize the U.S. Congress over the U.S. Administration (President and USTR) to seek a resolution of the WTO’s Appellate Body impasse, seeking Congress to mandate a resolution as part of its consideration of renewal of Trade Promotion Authority. See Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online, September 2, 2020, Fox: Congress should leverage TPSA renewal to resolve WTO appellate impasse, https://insidetrade.com/trade/fox-congress-should-leverage-tpa-renewal-resolve-wto-appellate-impasse.

Congress may well have an interest in the topic as part of trade promotion authority. However, for a candidate seeking to be selected as the next Director-General of the World Trade Organization to suggest the path to progress is by circumventing the U.S. Administration seems likely to raise concerns about his objectivity. Circumventing the U.S. Administration essentially indicates Dr. Fox’s belief that the problem at the WTO on the issue is U.S. intransigence. While that may be the European Union view, articulating such a position is unlikely to win friends at USTR. While Dr. Fox apparently believes he has the U.S. support, his statement on the approach he would take as Director-General may result in the U.S. supporting others. The Inside U.S. Trade piece quotes Dr. Fox as saying that when he is being frank, it usually gets him in trouble. Time will tell whether his recent comments repeat that self appraisal.

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