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Global economy in focus as Okonjo-Iweala emerges new WTO DG

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General Director of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.


• Pledges to tackle economic, COVID-19 crises • FG expresses confidence in Okonjo-Iweala
• Wike, Okowa hail appointment • OPEC, LCCI, MAN welcome development
• OPS warns Nigeria on expectations without addressing local challenges

Amid excitement, congratulatory messages and expectations for revamped global economy, groups and individuals, yesterday, welcomed the election of the Nigerian candidate, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) as its first woman and African Director-General.

President Muhammadu Buhari; Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike; Delta State Governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa; Secretary-General of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Mohammad Sanusi Barkindo, LCCI Director General, Dr. Muda Yusuf, and the Director General Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, Segun Ajayi-Kadir, all sent goodwill messages, charging the new WTO DG to make a difference.

The 164 members and 24 observer governments of WTO elected Okonjo-Iweala by consensus at its special meeting in Geneva yesterday.
Iweala, 66, a former Nigerian finance minister and ex-World Bank vice-president scaled the political hurdle erected by the now defeated former American President, Donald Trump.

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Set up in 1994 under the Marrakesh (Morocco) Agreement to replace the 1948 General Agreement on Trade and Tariff (GATT), the WTO, based in Geneva, Switzerland, is the largest international trade bloc. Okonjo-Iweala was formally introduced at the meeting.

The race for the WTO’s top position was frozen last November after the Nigerian candidate had secured more than 70 per cent of the required votes from across the continents. This was because the U.S., under President Trump, who had threatened to withdraw from WTO and other international organisations, maintained its support for the South Korean candidate. The Korean withdrew her bid on February 5, paving the way for Okonjo-Iweala’s unassailable victory.

The change of leadership in the American White House ended the obstacle with recently elected President Joe Biden pledging his administration’s support for the Nigerian candidate, and the return of the U.S. to international engagements.

Just as the world congratulated her, Okonjo-Iweala, yesterday, she stated that her first priority would be to quickly address the economic and health consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and to “implement the policy responses we need to get the global economy going again.”

With the pandemic already undermining many economies alongside a high mortality rate, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala already has her job cut out for her, even as the lingering trade war between the United States and China poses concerns to the multilateral institution.

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Already, the lingering trade battle between the United States and China has had a ripple effect on global trade, putting many countries on the edge and changing how countries align and trade.

Buhari, in his reaction, noted that Okonjo-Iweala, who had set major records of economic reforms in Nigeria as minister of finance, would excel in her new position and validate the global mandate of repositioning and strengthening the multilateral institution for the greater good of all.

The President, in a statement signed by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, also joined family, friends and colleagues in wishing Dr. Okonjo-Iweala well in her new endeavour.

Also, the Federal Government, through the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Otunba Adeniyi Adebayo’s speech delivered via zoom at the Special General Council Meeting of the organisation in Geneva, Switzerland yesterday, said the process of selection was not only transparent but its credit must go to all members.

He said: “Nigeria wishes to express profound gratitude and deep appreciation to all the members, who assisted Okonjo-Iweala during the campaign period.

Adebayo also appreciated all the regional blocs of the organisation for granting audience and support during the exercise.

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“We also thank the WTO Secretariat staff, translators and the press who worked hard in supporting and providing updates to members and the general public on the Director-General selection process,” he said.

The minister’s statement, which was signed by his Special Assistant on Media, Ifedayo Sayo, described Okonjo-Iweala as one of the few individuals on the global stage that enjoy high recognition, given her charismatic leadership qualities and proven records of excellence and integrity.

Okowa, in a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Olisa Ifeajika, in Asaba, on Monday, Okowa said he was elated to hear of the emergence of Okonjo-Iweala as WTO boss after a very highly competitive and protracted process.

He described Okonjo-Iweala as a brilliant, competent, world-class economist and international development expert, whose works over the years had distinguished her globally.

He said: “I am excited to hear of the emergence of our illustrious daughter, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, as the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation. Your appointment is indeed, a testament to your competence and experience as a renowned economist and international development expert.

“You went through a very rigorous and competitive process to emerge as the new head at the WTO. On behalf of my family, the Government and people of Delta, I congratulate a worthy ambassador of Delta and Nigeria, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, on the recognition and appointment.”Wike said that with Okonjo-Iweala’s election, the world had entered a new epoch.

The governor, in a statement signed by his Special Assistant on Media, Kelvin Ebiri, described the appointment  of Okonjo-Iweala, a one-time minister of finance and chairman of President Goodluck Jonathan Economic Team to lead the WTO as beacon of hope for Nigeria.
He expressed confidence that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, who had distinguished herself as a renowned economist, and contributed to the economic successes of many nations, would usher in a new era in the WTO.

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“Having served in the Federal Executive Council with Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, I am confident that she will remain committed to her principles of transparency, accountability and equity, which the world is yearning for.

The Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) stated that Okonjo-Iweala’s emergence came at a time when the global trading system was faced with numerous challenges, including supply chain disruptions precipitated by the coronavirus pandemic, rising protectionism and unilateralism, growing economic nationalism, imposition of trade restrictions covering substantial amount of international trade, as well as trust and credibility concerns, among members.

LCCI Director General, Dr. Muda Yusuf stated that while the emergence of Dr. Okonjo-Iweala as the new WTO Director-General is very gratifying and calls for celebration, there is a need to manage expectations around the outcomes for the Nigerian economy given the numerous productivity and competitiveness issues the country is grappling with, adding that ultimately, these are the factors that would determine the benefits that would accrue to the economy from global trade.

The Director-General of Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Segun Ajayi-Kadir, said: “So a lot of work awaits her. There has to be substantial changes in deciding and enforcing the rules of global trade.  She needs to sort out the so-called vaccine nationalism and negotiate the flow of this viral medicament to reach all nations, including the poorer ones. She needs to contend with and find solutions to the seemingly intractable trade wars among the leading world economies, while ensuring fairness for the less developed and underdeveloped ones.
  
“While not guaranteeing unmerited advantages  and disproportionate treatment, having an African at the helm of affairs in the WTO should give some comfort of understanding and assuage the noticeable anxieties of African countries in the world trade parlance. If you like, it may embolden the exploits of African nations when striking deals with the rest of the world,” he said.

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The Secretary-General of Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Mohammad Sanusi Barkindo stated that Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment came at an extremely challenging time for the world and the WTO. According to him, global trade has been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, support for the multilateral system needs to be bolstered and the WTO, under Okonjo-Iweala’s leadership, will embark on substantive and procedural reform.

PEOPLES Democratic Party also said it was gladdened by Okojo-Iweala’s emergence. The party said it confirmed her competence, global due process and consensus needed to pilot the activities of the world trade body, especially at this critical period in the history of the world’s economy.

The PDP, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, noted that the development had brought honour to the country.

The party urged the new WTO Director General to bring her wealth of experience to bear on the world body. While celebrating the election, the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, urged the new DG to lead the WTO to promote global prosperity through fair trade.

He said: “I heartily rejoice with Dr. Okonjo-Iweala on this well-deserved victory. With her latest feat, the former Nigerian minister of finance and managing director of the World Bank has again brought honour to Nigeria, Africa and women everywhere.”

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