A lot of people (Africans and non-Africans) were not surprised when President Muhammadu Buhari nominated a two-time Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the next Director-General of the World Trade Organisation. The reason is quite simple, her negotiating skill is immeasurable and her records speak.
If given an opportunity to serve, Okonjo-Iweala said she is ready to contribute her quota to the world economy. In her interview with Manuela Saragosa on Business Daily on BBC, she reeled her plans and what makes her the right candidate for the job.
On the reason she wants to lead WTO, the former Managing Director, Operations, World Bank said she believe it is an opportunity to serve all the countries in the world. Her words, “I believe WTO is one of the most important multi-lateral bodies in the world despite the challenges it faces and the reforms that need to be done. I believe it is very relevant for the economic development, growth and sharing of prosperity in the world.
“I want the job because I think I have the skills for it. I think the organization needs some reforms to make it relevant for times we are in and I have a reputation as a strong reformer. I have actually written a book titled ‘Reforming the Reformable,’ where we undertook certain reforms with a team in Nigeria. I am also a person with strong negotiation skills. I have a career of over 30 years for constantly been involved in negotiating an important agreement between countries.”
US and China war
On how she intends mending the fence between the US and China, she did not hesitate to outline what she thought was the problem and how to tackle them. She admitted that the task would be challenging but insisted it is what she relishes.
She said, “I relish the challenge of being able to build trust and I do hope that be an objective arbiter between US and China and as well as other member countries, I can help to find what the common interests are.
“I believe the Americans know that they have benefitted over time from the WTO and the World Trading System and other countries have also benefitted. I think what is involved is being a good listener. It is important to listen to the concerns of the Americans, China, Europe, Africa, Asia and try to bring them to the table around a common interest. I strongly believe that this world we face today, we need a forum where one can bring common interest together. In spite of all the words we hear, there is a need to bring people together and bring trust around a shared interest.”
What the job means for Africa
She explained that the job is extremely important for Africa because the continent has never held the position and African countries feel they can benefit better from the World Trading System. She added that the continent has negotiated a monumental agreement, which is the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, to strengthen the economies of the continent and enable them to trade with each other better and enable them to face the trading system of the world together.
“Africa’s trade is about 3% of the world trade and that needs to increase. Having an African at the WTO is something that will benefit Africa but the intention I have is to make sure that all parts of the world benefits,” she added.
Impacts of COVID-19 on African economies
Okonjo-Iweala pointed out that the virus has really illustrated and exhibited some of the trends that are on-going in the world. According to her, the WTO can make contributions, as African nations look at the supply chain and wonder what they will do about the health equipment, medical supplies and others.
She said, “I am quite worried and the reason is that African countries felt the economic impact of the pandemic first before they felt the health impact. The prices of commodities like Oil fell by 60% between December 2019 and March 2020. At that same time, there was a capital flight out of the continent, remittances fell, tourism fell. For the first time in 25 years, the continent’s economies were supposed to contrast by about 2%, so it is a heavy impact.
“The second thing is that the lockdowns and social distances took a tow on the economies. It also has an impact on informal sector workers, who have not been able to earn on a daily basis. It has impacted the lives of household and ordinary people.”
Debt relief for Africa
Though the former Finance Minister appreciated the G-20 for the Debt standstill given to Africa, she explained that the debt standstill, which was shifted to the end of 2020, would not be sufficient. As far as she is concerned, China should be able to extend the standstill for a couple of years to enable the continent to look at the Debt sustainability issues.
DG’s Selection process
General Council Chair, David Walker of New Zealand informed members on 20 May 2020 that the appointment process for the next Director-General would formally commence on 8 June with nominations accepted from that date until 8 July.
The Chair will inform WTO members of nominations as soon as they are received. After 8 July, Chair Walker will issue to members a consolidated list of all candidates. Shortly after the nomination period has closed, candidates will be invited to meet with members at a special General Council meeting, present their views and take questions from the membership.