If South Korea’s Yoo Myung-hee wins the DG position on November 6, China may not be able to replace Yi Xiaozhun because Asia would be seen to be overrepresented. Yonov Agah, a former Director of External Trade in Nigeria’s Ministry of Commerce is currently one of WTO’s four deputy director generals. If Okonjo-Iweala is elected, Africa will not be able to fill the deputy director general position after Agah’s second term.
On Thursday 8 October, it was confirmed that Nigeria’s former Finance Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and South Korea’s Trade Minister, Yoo Myung-hee are the two candidates to go into the final round of voting for a new Director General of the World Trade Organisation.
Britain’s former Secretary for International Trade, Liam Fox, is among the candidates that failed to make it to the final ballot which will happen on November 6.
The European Union bloc had decided to back Okonjo-Iweala and Myung-hee to proceed into the final round rather than Fox, candidate of a country that is leaving the EU. Liam Fox is an unwavering Brexiteer.
The South China Morning Post reports that China may back Nigeria’s Okonjo-Iweala in order to preserve its chances of retaining one of the four deputy director positions. Yi Xiaozhun, a former Chinese Vice Minister of Commerce, commenced his first term as WTO deputy director in 2013 and was reelected in 2017.
One of the deputy DG positions is reserved for the United States of America while the other three come from Latin America, Africa, Europe and Asia on a rotating basis. If South Korea’s Yoo Myung-hee wins the DG position on November 6, China may not be able to replace Yi Xiaozhun because Asia would be seen to be overrepresented.
Another Nigerian, Yonov Agah, a former Director of External Trade in Nigeria’s Ministry of Commerce is currently one of WTO’s four deputy director generals. He is serving his second and final term that is due to end in 1 October 2021. If Okonjo-Iweala is elected, Africa will not be able to fill the deputy director general position after Agah’s second term.
China joined the WTO, formerly known as the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT) in 2000. China’s accession to the WTO led to an exponential growth in Chinese exports, an outcome of a reduction in tariffs placed on Chinese products in the world’s richest markets.
China reciprocated by reducing tariffs on imports but membership has weighed more to China’s advantage because of a combination of having almost first world levels of education, infrastructure and productivity and wages barely above that of richer low-income countries.
America consistently has accused China of deliberately keeping the value of its currency, the yuan, low in order to boost exports. The administration of President Trump initiated an on-going trade war with China that has seen both sides impose higher tariffs on each other’s exports.
The WTO upheld a complaint against America in 2018, agreeing with China that the Trump administration violated its rules by selectively imposing higher tariffs on China.
China’s top exports (to the world) are telephones, computers and optical readers and integrated circuits/microassemblies while America’s top exports to China are aircraft, medical instruments, electrical machinery and vehicles.
A major challenge and potential achievement for the next director general of the WTO will be midwifing an agreement on trade between China and the United States of America.