The Biden administration 'shares' the concerns outlined by its predecessor about the WTO's Appellate Body, but its 'way of working' will be different from that of Donald Trump's White House, newly appointed WTO director Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has said.
"I'm not daunted. I see a way forward.With the US administration being willing to engage...I think the way of working to try and get a solution will be different," she indicated.
Calling the Appellate Body the "jewel in the crown" of the organization, Okonjo-Iweala said that necessary reforms "will not be easy, because we also have the issue of a lack of trust among members which has built up over time, not just the US and China or US and EU as many people want to say, but also between developing and developed country members."
Noting that she'd had "a very good conversation" with advisors from the US Trade Representative's office, the new director said she believes "our interests and priorities are aligned," and that the US side "want[s] to bring the WTO back to [its] purpose."
Okonjo-Iweala, 66, was appointed WTO chief on Monday following a closed-door meeting of the 164-member trade-focused intergovernmental organization. The economist spent 25 years at the World Bank as a development economist, and worked for two terms as Nigeria's finance minister.
Former WTO director-general Roberto Azevedo stepped down from his post last August, departing a year ahead of schedule after suggesting a more energetic leader was needed to confront the organization's internal problems. Trump blocked Okonjo-Iweala's selection as WTO director-general last fall, arguing that the other candidate for the post, South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee, was more qualified for the job, given her work in trade rather than development.
The Biden administration has yet to indicate whether it would unblock the Appellate Court appointments, and has not scrapped the Trump-era steel tariffs against the European Union which were enacted without appealing to WTO rules. The tariffs have substantial support from the US steel industry and unions.