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Try to understand how the international system works, using the Ngozi Iweala case ~ By Johnson Greg


I read in few places where it was stated that Ngozi Iweala will now be confirmed the DG of WTO because her top challenger, the South Korean Minister of Trade, had withdrawn her candidacy. Such assumption reflects a poor understanding of the system that governs these world institutions.

First, the South Korean Minister was never the real obstacle to Ngozi Iweala’s confirmation. If you remembered well, Iweala defeated her in every criterion under consideration but except one. And that one remaining factor turned out to be decisive. The real obstacle to Iweala was America’s special interest in the position of the DG for WTO. The American Government saw the Korean Minister as being in the best interest of America, and did not see Iweala to be in their best interest. So, Ngozi Iweala was not America’s preferred candidate. What you should focus on is whether America will reassess its interest and now consider Iweala an acceptable candidate for them to back, and not whether the Korean Minister has withdrawn.

In fact, the Korean Minister withdrew because the particular America officials that had backed her will probably leave office along with the outgoing administration of President Trump. And she is not so sure she would have strong backing from the new Administration.

Second, if the Biden Administration does not back Ngozi Iweala, she cannot get the job based on a selection exercise done in the past. It doesn’t work that way. If Biden’s administration has a preferred candidate, they will insist on a new selection exercise in which their preferred candidate will feature and Iweala can contest again probably to the same outcome as in the past.

To really predict what will happen to Ngozi Iweala’s bid for the WTO, you need to start by assessing the interest and intentions of the new American administration for WTO. Then you need to assess how well Ngozi Iweala, primarily a Nigerian candidate, fits into the America’s interest calculus. That is the step to follow to be able to assess what happens. Otherwise, it seems too naive and oversimplification to assume that Ngozi Iweala will automatically be confirmed the head of WTO just because of the withdrawal of a rival candidate in a past selection exercise.

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