Feb 19, 2021 / 11:29

New chief with old challenges

The Hanoitimes - Okonjo-Iweala appeared to be firmly determined to make out of her lifetime mission to new successes for the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Not only the World Trade Organization (WTO) itself but also the world welcomed with relief the news that this world institution has had its new general director elected. For the first time in its history, the WTO has a woman and an African woman on its helm. It is the Nigerian economist Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Her election was succeeded after the new US administration dropped the opposition of the previous one against Okonjo-Iweala.

 Okonjo-Iweala. Photo: the United Nations

It was a three-in-one good news: the WTO finally has its new chief after being leaderless for months, the US is on the common WTO boot again after having had disengaged with the WTO and disrespected it for four years and the WTO could now really carry out long overdue reforms. 

The WTO has its new chief as this global trade body struggles to remain relevant amid growing protectionism and trade tensions and an economic crisis unleashed by the coronavirus pandemic.

For the WTO, these challenges aren’t new but the today's world makes it more urgent and difficult for the WTO to overcome them. There will be very hard times and huge works for its new chief in the coming days, months and years.

At present, the WTO has been in the most severe crisis in its history. Its new general director and all WTO members knew and know it. This world trade body is lacking proper strategic orientations, strong consensus among its members, enough courage to reform its institutions and fresh ideas to further develop the multilateral world trade system and to quickly reach one other global trade liberalization round. 

The WTO urgently needs to reform its dispute settlement panel in order to be able to play the most decisive role in settling bilateral and multilateral trade disputes between its members. 

The WTO must be prepared for the case that some big and powerful members might ignore or withdraw from it. In light of the rapidly advancing digitalization everywhere in the globalized world, the WTO would also need to speed up the process to define regulations to deal with the rise of new trends such as e-commerce and digitalization.

Okonjo-Iweala appeared to be firmly determined to make out of her lifetime mission to new successes for the WTO. Her first public announcements after being elected to the top of the WTO were strong and resolute. Her priorities are clear. But she could only lead the WTO out of its present crisis and to new horizons if all WTO members are willing to support her and to be with her on board.

Disclaimer: The views expressed by Ambassador Tran Duc Mau are of his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Hanoitimes.