Major challenges for WTO's first woman head

2021-02-19 12:08:04

FILE PHOTO: Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala poses outside a Nigerian diplomatic residence in Chambesy, near Geneva, Switzerland on September 29, 2020. [Photo/Agencies] Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who will serve as World Trade Organization director-general from March 1,2021, to Aug 31, 2025, faces at least three major challenges. First, she needs to restore the organization's dispute settlement mechanism that has remained paralyzed for more than six months as judges' posts in its appellate body remain vacant. At least three judges are required to maintain basic operations but the appellate body has been doing with only one judge after the Donald Trump administration opposed the appointment of new judges saying the WTO needs an institutional overhaul. Dispute settlement is one of the WTO's three major functions. Restoring normal operation of its appellate body is undoubtedly a primary challenge before Okonjo-Iweala, as the Joe Biden administration could still follow its predecessor's political legacy and try to interfere in the appointment of new judges. The second challenge before Okonjo-Iweala is to carry out large-scale reform of the WTO's operations so as to enable it to better defend the international multilateral trade mechanism. The WTO should be able to set the stage for multilateral trade negotiations, supervise all parties implementing relevant trade policies and facilitate the settlement of trade disputes. The organization has done tremendous work in this regard. But it needs to do more to adapt to the fast changing landscape of world trade that is deeply influenced by not only the world economy and politics but also public emergencies, such as the outbreak of the novel coronavirus pandemic. According to Okonjo-Iweala, the WTO's reform must follow its core principles of nondiscrimination, predictability and fairness, and all its members are obliged to make joint efforts to promote the reform. The unanimous support she has garnered has also driven home the members' shared aspirations to breathe life into the trade body as soon as possible to boast the post-pandemic recovery of the world. Last but not least, Okonjo-Iweala must try to let WTO play a bigger role in helping steer world trade through the storms of the pandemic. World trade has remained lackluster in January, with uncertainties still surrounding the widely projected rebound of the world economy. For instance, the WTO must take greater responsibility in coordinating the trade of essential medical supplies worldwide to prevent the trade gap from evolving into a vaccine gap. Okonjo-Iweala has already made history as the first woman and the first African WTO chief. She can and has to do more than that.