“It is done! Thank you @WTO members for finalizing my election today and making history. But now the real work begins. Ready to tackle the challenges of WTO. Forget Business as usual!”
These were the words tweeted by Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on Monday evening, hours after she was appointed as the new Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
It is done! Thank you @WTO members for finalizing my election today and making history. In the 73 years of GATT and WTO, honored to be First Woman and First African to lead. But now the real work begins. Ready to tackle the challenges of WTO. Forget Business as usual! pic.twitter.com/apnAalHWf5
Some stakeholders, especially her critics, may be wondering what she meant by “Forget Business as usual.” The sentence could mean it was time for her to implement the reforms she had promised if appointed as the first female DG of the global trade body.
In one of the interviews granted in the heat of the contest in 2020, the two-time former Nigerian Finance Minister was emphatic that her reason for being optimistic to be crowned the next DG was that her negotiating skill was immeasurable as shown in her records.
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Okonjo-Iweala had promised to contribute her quota to the African and world economy.
In her interview with Manuela Saragosa on Business Daily on BBC, she reeled out what her appointment meant for Africa and her plans for WTO.
She explained that the job was extremely important for Africa because the continent had never held the position, and African countries felt they could benefit better from the World Trading System.
She added that the continent had negotiated a monumental agreement (the African Continental Free Trade Agreement) to strengthen the economies of the continent and enable them to trade with each other better, as well as face the trading system of the world together.
She said, “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.”
Though the former Nigerian 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 was concerned, China should be able to extend the standstill for a couple of years to enable the continent look at the debt sustainability issues.
She said, “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.”
On how she intends to mend the fence between the US and China, she did not hesitate to outline what she thought was the problem and how to tackle it. She admitted that the task would be challenging but insisted that she relished it.
She said, “I relish the challenge of being able to build trust and I do hope that being 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 interests together. In spite of all the words we hear, there is a need to bring people together and bring trust around a shared interest.”
Okonjo-Iweala pointed out that the virus had really illustrated some on-going trends in the world. According to her, the WTO could make contributions, as African nations looked at the supply chain and wondered what they would 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.
“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 toll 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.”
What you should know
On Monday, Nairametrics reported that Okonjo-Iweala was appointed the first female DG of WTO, as announced by the global trade body.
WTO tweeted, “Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala from Nigeria is appointed as the next WTO Director-General. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala makes history as the first woman and the first African to lead the WTO. Her term starts on the 1st of March 2021.”
66-year-old Okonjo-Iweala, by her appointment, becomes the first woman to ever lead the Switzerland-based institution and the first African citizen to take on the role.