Congratulations, dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. If all goes as planned, next Monday (15), the 164 members of the World Trade Organization, by consensus, will ratify their name at the command of the institution.
In a world where consensus is scarce, the fact that the United States, China and so many others are able to come to an agreement on the direction of the WTO justifies some hope.
Plus, the priority Joe Biden gave to unlocking this selection process is a good sign. By lifting the Trump administration’s veto in his name, Biden has hopefully removed the last hurdle for the WTO to have new leadership.
The result is positive in itself, but it is also the sign of a new American position at the WTO. The challenges for the Organization remain enormous, but there was no hope as the United States played against them.
The choice of her name is also a cause for celebration for all those who advocate greater participation by women in leadership positions. It is no small feat to be the first woman to lead the organization in its 25-year history. Still being black and African, the originality and symbolism of the decision couldn’t be greater.
The hard work begins now. Expectations are high and their power is not unlimited. The rules say it is the members, not the CEO, who have the power to make decisions. But the truth is, if the members want to do anything, they will have to rely on you. And that is precisely where its power lies. You have the ability to act behind the scenes so that members understand each other and move forward.
The problem is that there is no shared view on where the WTO should go. Some want to open, others to close their economies for trade. Some want to reduce the distortions caused by subsidies and others want to be able to subsidize their production more. Some think trade helps and others think it hinders. Some want a tribunal to resolve disputes and others are in doubt. With 164 members and an organization that operates on the basis of consensus, overcoming immobility is a daunting task.
Armed with realism, you can help build a more flexible WTO. One way to achieve this is to make arrangements that do not involve all 164 at the same time. The organization should facilitate understanding among stakeholders, as long as they do not harm members who choose to stay outside or come in later.
Agreements with these characteristics are being negotiated in the areas of electronic commerce and investment facilitation. If you help achieve them, it will make a difference for the Organization. The WTO will be more dynamic and efficient if negotiations in smaller formats are more common.
Another way to make the WTO more flexible is to promote agreements that are not binding legal commitments. They generate less resistance than international treaties and can influence members’ public policies. Good practices, guidelines and other instruments considered “soft” are of great value – not only in relation to the alternative of producing nothing, but also because they help promote international convergence.
Agreements – even flexible ones – concerning vaccines and medical and hospital supplies would be welcome. Take advantage of the honeymoon with the members and their long experience of cooperation in the field of vaccines to get off on the right foot.
Over time, if you help build a more flexible and credible organization, you will have made a huge contribution to the WTO and its members. Success for you – the world needs it.
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