A former Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, says despite their worsening trade relationship, both the United States and China want someone who can listen to their grievances and get the World Trade Organisation running again.
The US-China trade war started in 2018 when US President Donald Trump began setting tariffs and other trade barriers on China with the goal of forcing it to make changes to what the US described as “unfair trade practices.”
Trump alleged that China was costing the American economy hundreds of billions of dollars per year because of unfair trade practices.
The trade war has negatively affected both economies and has attracted criticisms from economists.
The US has been a WTO member since 1995 while China joined in 2001.
But with the US-China trade war, the disaffection between the world’s largest economies is said to have paralysed international commerce and the WTO.
However, Okonjo-Iweala said she believed the US and China still had a mutual interest in repairing the broken global trading system.
Okonjo-Iweala was recently nominated by Nigeria for the position of WTO Director-General to succeed the current Director-General, Mr Roberto Azevêdo, who has announced he would step down on August 31, 2020. The new DG will resume in September.
In an interview with POLITICO, Okonjo-Iweala, who is Chair of the Board of Gavi and also sits on the board of Twitter, said she could be the peacemaker who could push the US and China to find common ground and resurrect the moribund WTO.
She said she would be the “listener-in-chief” and “objective arbiter” who could convince Beijing and Washington that it was in their mutual interest to get the WTO running again.
“The US and China are the two largest economies in the world. I know that they both believe in trade … Both China and the US have an interest in seeing the WTO go on.
“But they want people to listen, they want someone who can listen carefully to what their issues are, what is it they want to see improved in the WTO,” Okonjo-Iweala said.
The ex-World Bank Managing Director also stated that the WTO had failed to keep up with the times, thus needed innovation.