• Saturday, June 15, 2024
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Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala: Eminently qualified for DG WTO

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

The World Trade Organisation (WTO), born out of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), was established on 1 January 1995. The main objective of the WTO is to ensure trade flows smoothly and predictably globally. As it stands today, the WTO is the largest organisation in charge of international trade and finance with its headquarters in Switzerland.

Since the WTO was established, it has not been headed by an African. Today, the WTO is headed by a Brazilian, Roberto Azevedo who is completing his tenured term in office soon. Once the incumbent Director General (DG) completes his term in office, a new DG would be elected to succeed him.

Since the race for the position of the DG WTO began, different nations had projected their citizens to take charge of the international trade organisation. The DG WTO wields so much power and influence just like the chief executive officer of any other international organisation such as the United Nation (UN), World Bank, and International Monetary Fund (IMF) amongst others. Member nations are qualified to compete for the top job at the WTO. So eligible candidates are given ample opportunity to compete for the position of DG by going through appropriate laid down rules and procedures.

The list of applicants includes 3 African contenders for the plum job. They are Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s former Finance Minister and head of Economic Management Team and ex-foreign minister; Amina Mohammed, a Kenyan lawyer, diplomat and politician; and Abdel-Hamid Mamdouhm, an Egyptian lawyer and ex-WTO official.

Sentiments apart, above listed Africans who have shown interest in the WTO’s plum job have intimidating profiles and none of them can be pushed aside. A flip through Amina Mohammed’s profile for instance, shows that she has gone through the Mamdouh mill as a former staff and chairperson of many committees in the WTO. Frankly, she is going to slug it out with Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala before competing with other eminently qualified candidates from other parts of the world. I can see power of nations and diplomacy at play in selecting the next DG WTO.

Affirmative, global geopolitics will play a significant role in the selection process as developed countries are interested in the DG WTO position. There are speculations that developed countries want to have access to the office of the DG WTO in order to further boost their trade activities. This is happening at a time when COVID-19 pandemic has changed the face of global economy.

Africa has not benefitted considerably from global trade. So, with diplomacy and game of brinkmanship by the Nigerian government, Ngozi will have an opportunity again on the global stage to prove that she can make the WTO thrive in the 21st Century

Although, African countries have a potential to do more, its contribution to global trade remains marginal at about 2.6 percent, up from 2.4 percent in 2017. And while intra-African trade rose to 16 percent in 2018 from 5 percent in 1980, it remains low compared to inter-regional trade in Europe and Asia, according to African Trade Report 2019.

With Africa constituting about 27 percent of the total WTO membership and 35 percent of WTO developing countries membership, the continent of over one billion people has a key role to play in global trade. Trade will improve economies globally. Considering Africa’s weak contribution to global trade, one is tempted to argue in favour of an eminently qualified African to head the WTO. But I do know that selection process for any plum job in the international environment doesn’t follow a straight-line graph.

For instance, one may wish to recall that some of the industrialised nations such as the US, Japan and others including countries in the European Union (EU) have raised concerns about WTO’s rules on “special and differential treatment” which creates favourable trade terms for Less Developed Countries (LDCs). The concern raised by some industrialised nations may be a stumbling block against the emergence of a DG WTO of African descent.

But if you ask me, I think the international community in general and industrialised nations in particular, are desirous of revamping the mechanism of the WTO with a view to ensuring participation of more countries in global trade. If my thoughts are in sync with realities on ground, it may be necessary to bring on board an African bureaucrat and technocrat with leadership abilities who understands how trade works in the international environment.

All these odds aside, when one examines the profiles of the above-named distinguished personalities of African descent, it is observed that Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is the most suitable and qualified candidate to be the next DG WTO. Please, permit me to tell you why Ngozi is eminently qualified for the plum job.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is a woman of grace and candour with an intimidating profile. She is Chair at the Board of Gavi, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation. Ngozi is also Senior Adviser at Lazard, one of the world’s premier financial advisory and asset management firms. An economist and a reformer who understands the language of multilateral agreements at international level having served at the World Bank as a development economist for 25 years where she rose to the enviable position of the Managing Director.

With the trade war between the US and China and the weak performance of African nations in global trade, contrasting trade policies among member nations, emergence of AfCFTA, and low-level activities of the WTO, I submit that the crown will certainly fit Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria as the next DG WTO.

A beacon of hope for other African women, Ngozi is a distinguished graduate of both Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), a multi-award-winning finance expert, development economist, a global civil servant and reformer. Ngozi is a woman of integrity, experience and honour as demonstrated twice when she was Nigeria’s Minister of Finance. After fighting corruption as finance minister, Ngozi left Nigeria’s murky political terrain gracefully with her honour and integrity intact on completion of her tour of duty. I salute Ngozi’s courage.

I hope the way Nigeria is perceived within the international community will not count significantly against Ngozi’s efforts at securing the top job. I want to believe that Nigeria is up-to-date in its financial obligations to the WTO. I do hope that Nigeria’s corrupt history of financial mismanagement by some individuals in authority coupled with rising spate of insecurity will not mar Ngozi’s chances of emerging as the next DG WTO.

Africa has not benefitted considerably from global trade. So, with diplomacy and game of brinkmanship by the Nigerian government, Ngozi will have an opportunity again on the global stage to prove that she can make the WTO thrive in the 21st Century. It will take an African, particularly a Nigerian of Ngozi’s calibre and leadership quality to reform the WTO, support weak economies, and moderate established procedures of world’s power brokers on global trade issues. Thank you!