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WORLD TRADE ORGANISATION’S DG & AFRICA’S CHANCES ….. Will Africa lose this golden opportunity? Why the poorest continent must unite to pick the best candidate

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‘’Decisions made by WTO Member-States can make the difference between poverty and prosperity; and even between life and death, for millions upon millions of people’’Kofi Annan

Let me commence by stating that the views expressed in this piece are entirely mine — Femi Adelegan – expressed as a citizen of the world. And I bear full responsibility for the contents. I am doing this for the purpose of setting the agenda in motion. I make this known because of the possibility of wrong imputation of sponsorship by any individual or government. But I air my views honestly about my wish for an African to emerge as the next DG of the World Trade Organisation. And this is a legitimate desire pushed forth by two issues: I am an African and (ii) actions taken by the WTO will indirectly affect me and millions of other innocent people all over the world.

WILL AFRICA THROW AWAY A GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY? Will Africa throw away this golden opportunity by failing to reach a consensus to line up behind Global Citizen – Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala? This is a very rational concern of the moment that warrants a critical examination by the African Union. Three key multilateral agencies influence to a great extent global economic development and where the pendulum swings, through policy measures: The World Bank Group, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organisation. None of these organizations has ever been headed by an African.
It is not a bad idea for people who would be directly affected by WTO’s policies — Nigeria’s Aliko Dangote to rally his counterparts with connections — highly patriotic Dr. Mo Ibrahim, Isabel dos Santos, and Tony Elumelu, joined by First Bank’s Ibukun Awosika to engage in quiet shuttle diplomacy and show huge commitment by enlisting the support of their counterparts all over the world for an African to emerge. Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and Mark Zuckerberg surely know those candidates very well. Locus standi? They are traders whose activities will be directly and indirectly impacted by policies of the WTO.

There is no contention about the fact that Nigeria’s Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is eminently placed to be the next head of the World Trade Organisation given her pedigree, international exposure, competence, merit, and gender. Ngozi, (NOI) as she is fondly addressed has an impressive resume and pedigree that most certainly towers above doubts and also protrudes global recognition as an immensely successful development economist. Ngozi knows the terrain and is an expert that could lead that global agency at this critical period when the whole world in at cross-road following the ravages of COVID-19 that has literally brought the global economy on its knees.

As Managing Director of the World Bank, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, listens to a statement, during a session at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Saturday, Jan. 31, 2009. (AP Photo/Keystone/Alessandro Della Bella)

Let us never narrow down the involvement of Candidate Okonjo-Iweala to her citizenship of Nigeria, nay Africa. She is indeed a global citizen who is stoutly committed to the good of the whole world. Her exposure and dispassionate conduct in public and private sectors for decades, added to her intelligence and influence in global organizations that pull the lever of the global economy – the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund are clear advantages. Truth told, the World Trade Organisation must work with these multilateral organizations in the collective task of pulling back the global economy from retrogression. It is indisputable that Okonjo-Iweala has an edge over other candidates concerning the much-needed ability to walk through and influence decisions of the World Bank/IMF in favour of global trade.  It is to be noted that my series of compilations on this savvy economist of repute is on account of what she could do for the world, not for Nigeria only if appointed. Nobody succeeds in selling a bad product. We must be cosmopolitan in outlook at this difficult period and go for the best materials that could bail the global economy out of its predicament.

Truth is physicians, engineers, lawyers, and other professionals outside the Financial Services sector have headed financial institutions. However, what the global community requires at this very critical juncture is a tested professional who could move the WTO to march over the challenges thrown by COVID-19. In doing this, due recognition of inherent potentials, global acceptability, and ability to access the support and collaboration of key multilateral financial institutions by the next appointee most be considered. The fact that a very competent African has never headed the World Bank Group, International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organisation, three key global bodies that largely determine global wealth should ideally be noted by the appointing authority and Member States of the WHO.

GLOBAL ECONOMY: Reconfiguration of the global economy is ongoing, and is an agenda being pursued globally and also collectively,  through the assistance and guidance of the United Nations. As projected, new trading patterns will emerge. She is able to evolve workable systems that would guarantee sustainable and viable trade relations that adapt reforms, while also introducing the necessary structural adjustments in the global economic and trade arena, through strategizing for the evolution of a more prosperous world. Commodity markets are facing volatility, and supply of raw materials and commodity markets are in crisis. A study conducted by Jovana Stanisljevic, Professor in International Business, Department People, Organization, Society, Grenoble École de Management reveals that ‘’The International Energy Agency (IEA) expects that global oil demand growth in 2020 will be 30 percent lower than anticipated.  Instead of 1.2 million barrels per day as previously estimated, it will rise only by 825 million barrels per day.’’

ECOWAS BACKS CANDIDATE OKONJO-IWEALA:  All these factors,  combined with Nigeria’s strategic importance as well as Africa’s interests made ECOWAS heads of government to unanimously endorse NOI for the very important assignment of heading the World Trade Organization (WTO) and, called on other African countries to follow, a document showed on Monday, in a possible step towards uniting Africa behind her. Niger’s President and ECOWAS chairman Mahamadou Issoufou who announced the sub-regional group’s support for Ngozi stated that the world requires NOI’s services to steer reforms and negotiations in the face of rising protectionism, a deep recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and growing trade tensions, notably between the United States and China. There is time for most, if not all of Africa to unite behind one candidate. Supporters of Okonjo-Iweala, have also pointed to her dexterity as a development economist who contributed through her negotiating skills, to win a multi-billion dollar debt relief package for Nigeria. ECOWAS wishes that the African Union would move speedily to endorse Okonjo-Iweala as its candidate for the WTO job. Dr. Ngozi’s goal, says one of her aides is ‘’to earn the support of all African countries, and she’s humbled by the support she’s already received..’’

NIGERIA’S ROLE – WHY THE AFRICAN UNION & THE WHOLE WORLD SHOULD SUPPORT NIGERIA Nigeria is abundantly endowed with human and material resources that could sustain high and broad-based growth and development. More importantly, our country boasts of the highest pool of highly educated and trained manpower in Africa. This is in addition to the country’s large population that offers the largest market for investors in Africa. Nigeria’s commitments to peaceful co-existence among the peoples of the world in terms of material and financial support have been quite massive. According to Nigeria’s former Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s economy constitutes 76 percent of the economy of the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS. Nigeria also holds 30 per cent of the economy in sub-Saharan Africa and 21 percent of Africa’s economy. Nigeria is a middle income, mixed economy, and emerging market, with expanding financial, service, communications technology, and entertainment sectors. It was, as of 2014 ranked 26th in the world in terms of GDP, and is the largest economy in Africa (based on rebased figures announced in April 2014). It plans to become one of the 20 largest economies in the world before too long.

Nigeria’s roles in the global agenda: Nigeria, the most populous black nation, and the Giant of Africa has a great role to play in leading the African continent to political and socio-economic advancement. Nigeria must, therefore, continue to propel other African nations to move from the back row to the front by recording greater and impressive socio-economic developments.  That role has certainly not been an easy one, considering the fact that huge resources, financial and material, are required to get us out of our political and economic distress. Nigeria has paid her dues in terms of promoting peace, development, and international understanding in Africa and beyond. For decades, Nigeria has functioned as the chief motivator of the African Union. Experiences in the past, especially in the West African States of ECOWAS (consisting of sixteen nations) have shown that the effects of disturbances in other nations reverberate across Nigeria.  The fact is that Nigeria has held the sub-region together.

Nigeria assists other nations in the African region and beyond to solve their manpower problems through the Technical Aid Corps Scheme administered by Nigeria’s Ministry of Foreign affairs. Again, it is important to highlight the fact that there are thousands of Nigerian specialists in different fields in Diaspora, contributing their quota to the development of other countries of the world. This gesture is apart from grants and loans occasionally disbursed to African sister-states by Nigeria. The world is constantly changing and new trading patterns need to be reworked. The economy of Nigeria is undoubtedly the engine of the economy of West-Africa and beyond. Nigeria shoulders not only a heavy burden of doing well for the sake of Nigerians but also the burden of our sub-region and the African continent. This is one of the factors, aside NOI’s competence that the AU could consider moving forward.

NIGERIA’S COMMENDABLE POSTURE IN GLOBAL POLITICS –Whatever affects Nigeria, has the attendant possible effect of spreading to other parts of Africa.  From the strategic position Nigeria occupies, it needs not be stressed that Nigeria must continue to play critical roles in shaping a new global agenda. The Nigerian government is committed to taking steps that will promote international cooperation in various areas in view of our commitment to the pursuit of a new social order in the developing world. Nigeria certainly deserves greater positive support by the advanced countries and nothing less than formal support of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala candidacy. The world must ideally consider NOI’s inherent capabilities, in addition to her wide global connections as key factors in tackling global trade and economic relations, that are enormous responsibilities that must be applied towards the emergence of a new world order that would emerge come with successful trade policies.

By virtue of treaties and agreements, Nigeria is a member of most regional and global organizations. As a member of the Economic Community of West African States, the African Union, New Economic Partnership for African Development, NEPAD, the Non-Aligned Movement, the Commonwealth, and the United-Nations, Nigeria has over the years played prominent roles in seeking world peace and the promotion of socio-economic and political interests of member nations. With Africa as the centre-piece of Nigeria’s foreign policy, the country has played prominent and commendable roles; political, educational, as well as financial in the liberation struggles of the countries of the southern African region. Nigeria’s commitments to peaceful co-existence among the peoples of the world in terms of material and financial support have been massive.

AS AN ACTIVE MEMBER OF THE UNITED NATIONS: The efforts of the African Union and the governments of the West African sub-region in policing the peace since many of them attained independence have been prosecuted through moves largely spearheaded by Nigeria. Nigeria has also made a mark as one of the nations with the highest level of troop contributors to the United Nations.

The responsibilities thrust upon the Director-General of the World Trade Organization are enormous and require someone with a deep knowledge of the problems of both the developed and developing nations. These include trade negotiations, implementing WTO agreements,  forging new agreements,  resolving disputes, monitoring world trade, and helping developing countries trade. Outgoing WTO DG Roberto Azevêdo says the body has become a central pillar of the global economic architecture; asserting that ‘’there is much, much more to do. ‘’We need to go further in leveraging trade’s potential as a force for growth and development – and we must deliver further negotiated outcomes’’ One of the key tasks ahead, according to the body is WTO’s strong commitment to the reduction of barriers to trade by lowering tariffs and tackling non-tariff measures, such as import licensing restrictions or the use of trade measures for protectionist purposes.

At the World Trade Organization’s 10th Ministerial Conference the world came closer to ratification of the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA), an agreement that could help lower trade costs and ease customs cooperation for member countries, generating more trade and investment globally.

WHY WTO REQUIRES A FORMIDABLE PROFESSIONAL LIKE OKONJO-IWEALA: A WTO publication indicates that the WTO also seeks to ensure that existing trade rules are respected by its 161 members around the world and that the needs of developing countries remain central to its work. The preamble to the agreement that established the WTO in 1994 states that ‘’It is committed to conducting trade and economic development to raise standards of living, ensuring full employment and a large and steadily growing volume of real income and effective demand, and expanding the production of and trade in goods and services, while allowing for the optimal use of the world’s resources in accordance with the objective of sustainable development, seeking both to protect and preserve the environment and to enhance the means for doing so in a manner consistent with… respective needs and concerns at different levels of economic development. The parties to this Agreement [seek to contribute] to these objectives by entering into reciprocal and mutually advantageous arrangements directed to the substantial reduction of tariffs and other barriers to trade and to the elimination of discriminatory treatment in international trade relations.’’ A clear understanding of the plight of developing and the developed world is essential.

TRADE & GLOBALIZATION: In his message to the November 2001 Doha conference of trade ministers that birthed the Doha Development Agenda, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan noted that ‘’Trade is the most visible manifestation of globalization. It has proved its ability to deliver jobs and wealth for some. Yet there is widespread unease, and even distrust, about the new economic and technological spaces we inhabit. So many people have yet to benefit, and in the developing world, there has been great dislocation without a safety net. ‘’You, the world’s trade ministers, must show those people that you have heard their cries for fairness. You must give them confidence that, from now on, your negotiations and decisions will really meet their needs and reflect their aspirations. You have an awesome responsibility, and a great opportunity. ‘’Your decisions can make the difference between poverty and prosperity; and even between life and death, for millions upon millions of people’’ Although the World Trade Organisation is not one of the 15 specialized agencies of the United Nations, NOI has the clout, based on a very strong long-standing relationship with the UN System that could ensure synergy for global trade development.

THE DEVELOPING WORLD & WTO The Bali Ministerial Conference in 2013 saw the WTO also seeks to ensure that developing countries are equipped with the necessary know-how to participate fully in the multilateral trading system. A publication by the WTO indicates that the meeting as agreeing that: ‘’The WTO has established the Aid for Trade initiative to help developing countries benefit as much as possible from the opportunities provided by the multilateral trading system.  ‘’Through its technical assistance programme, the WTO undertakes over 300 training activities a year, ranging from national workshops to regional training courses, and carries out an extensive e-learning programme. Some 180,000 people have benefitted from this assistance. At a Kenya conference to mark its 20th anniversary, the WTO agreed to strengthen trade multilateralism; promote inclusiveness, rules-based and non-discriminatory trading system, influence and rapid economic growth. For Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, this is a familiar turf and she would, if given the opportunity, confidently galvanize the WTO system to pay critical attention to trade, growth and development.

The world needs to address retarded socio-political and economic growth. This lapse has resulted in conflicts and militancy, hunger, political instability, lack of respect for the rule of law, corruption and other social vices. From this point of view, the world requires competent, patriotic, and selfless leaders to move it forward to exit the wobbling economy created by COVID-19. The drivers must be leaders with mission and vision, who could articulate the development agenda to the advantage of the world.    The former finance minister aims to come into the WTO to push forth effectiveness and efficiency, to contain Coronavirus’ ravaging storm of cloud that calls for urgent global actions. Plans, no matter how beautiful they could be, would not materialize unless they are properly implemented in addition to conforming to the common aspirations of the citizenry.

In her interview with BBC’s Manuela Saragosa on Business Daily Dr. Okonjo-Iweala stated that: “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.”

 Candidate Ngozi pointed out that: “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 benefit,” 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.

 ON THE UNITED STATES/CHINA TRADE WAR: Okonjo-Iweala says: 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.”

NOMINEES IN THE RACE: Dr. Jesús Seade Kuri (Mexico) Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Nigeria) Mr Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh (Egypt)  Mr Tudor Ulianovsch (Moldova) Ms Yoo Myung-hee (Korea) Ms Amina C. Mohamed (Kenya) Mr Mohammad Maziad Al-Tuwaijri (Saudi Arabia) Dr Liam Fox (United Kingdom) Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (NOI) is grounded in World Bank Group operations that are full of reforms, and she is able to push forth WTO reforms that would promote global trade and counter-reactions to COVID-19 set-back.. She possesses strong political and indomitable will required to implement reforms directed at development, and successfully led a team of technocrats that won debt relief for Nigeria. Ngozi chairs the African Risk Capacity, a weather-based insurance organization of the African Union. She is a member of the G20 Eminent Persons Group reviewing Global Financial Governance and is an ambassador of the Open Government Partnership.

 COMPETENCIES & AFRICAN UNION: For Africa with three contestants in the ring, all hope is not lost. Going through the resume of candidates from Africa reveals the professional strengths of one of the nominees in the very important areas of trade, finance, and economic development.  Not too long ago, the World Health Organization beckoned to NOI and made her a Special Envoy on combating Coronavirus. Last March, President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa appointed her a member of his country’s Economic Advisory Council, Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala is one of the four Special Envoys the African Union (AU) appointed last April to mobilize international support for its efforts toward addressing the coronavirus pandemic. The AU special envoys are charged with soliciting the support of the G20, the European Union, and other international financial institutions for the organization’s response. African countries had last year decided that the next director-general of the WTO should come from the continent. President Cyril Ramaphosa of the Republic of South Africa, and Chairperson of the African Union Commission,  Moussa Faki Mahamat have a lot of work to do to ensure that this position comes to Africa, and precisely to Nigeria.

And if one of the major considerations is proficiency in fiscal, monetary, and trade policies, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala stands very tall as a very solid professional, a development economist with World Bank Group credentials that puts her in good stead in the race towards the Geneva headquarters of the WTO.