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WTO DG: EU’s backing and implications for Nigeria’s trade

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Nigeria’s optimism that its former Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, would clinch the top post of Director General (DG) of World Trade Organisation (WTO), was buoyed recently by European Union’s (EU) endorsement.

It is obvious that, apart from the prestige of producing the first female and African WTO DG, Nigeria stands to gain greater presence and advantageous relationship within the World Trade Organisation if she is elected.

Perhaps, in recognition of the many benefits that could accrue to Nigeria’s trade by the prospects of Okonjo-Iweala’s occupation of the exalted office that the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Otunba Adeniyi Adebayo, extolled the EU for endorsing her candidacy.

With the race for the WTO DG down to the final stage, the Federal Government expressed optimism that its candidate in the election, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who is one of the two shortlisted possible occupants, would emerge victorious.

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While commending the EU for its giant gesture, Adebayo, a former Ekiti State governor, stressed that the former Finance Minister remains the most qualified for the WTO top job. He noted that EU’s endorsement comes as a tacit acknowledgement of Nigeria being on the path of winning the coveted position.

It would be recalled that Presidents of West African countries had earlier endorsed the former Finance Minister, who was nominated by President Muhammadu Buhari for the WTO job, based on her sterling qualities.

The leaders had conveyed their support during the 57th Ordinary Session of the Authority of Heads of State and Government of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Niamey, Republic of Niger.

The Minister of Industry, Adebayo, also inaugurated a Campaign Strategy Team for the former Minister of Finance last July, saying it was key to ensuring that Nigeria emerged as WTO Director-General for 2021 – 2025 term.

According to Adebayo, “the decision to support the former minister was informed by the overriding consideration of the need to boost Africa’s chance and for the promotion of gender mainstreaming at the world’s top trade post.”

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He expressed optimism that Okonjo-Iweala would emerge as the next Director-General of WTO, based on her capabilities and wealth of experience at the highest level of the World Bank, as a Development Economist, Diplomat and one of Africa’s most trusted technocrats.

“With the latest support from EU, the Federal Government will ensure that Okonjo-Iweala as the choice of Africans emerges as the next Director General of the WTO,” the minister declared.

Okonjo-Iweala is being challenged by her South Korean counterpart Yoo Myung-hee, whose major weakness is not having played at a global scale like the Nigeria-American, who is a former Managing Director of the World Bank.

Although the South Korean is younger by 13 years, her lack of international experience places her next to Nigeria’s first woman Minister of Finance.

Therefore, it could be based on that obvious favourable rating that some overzealous online reports in Nigeria celebrated the speculation that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has been named the new WTO DG.

However, the former Finance Minister’s Media Adviser, Mr. Paul C. Nwabuikwu, promptly released a statement, stressing, “contrary to inaccurate information released online by an unidentified source, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has not yet been declared winner.”

While remarking that the winner would be announced in two or three weeks’ time, the statement added: “The race for the WTO Director General is still very much on.

“As announced by WTO, the former Managing Director of the World and South Korea’s Yoo Myung-hee are the final two contestants left in the race. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is appreciative and energized by the enthusiastic support of Nigerians. And she urges all to keep praying until the final whistle.”

Possible Benefits
Conversely, despite the incorrect report, Nigerians have continued to discuss the possible gains to accrue from Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s years at the WTO if finally named as DG.

International Communication and Development expert, Dr. Arthur-Martins Aginam, said as the DG of WTO, Okonjo-Iweala’s term would quicken the space of Nigeria’s development and balance of trade.

Aginam, who lectures at the Faculty of Management and Social Sciences, Baze University, Abuja, expressed the belief that coming at a time Nigeria is talking seriously about economic diversification, her election as WTO DG would offer support and traction.

Also, the WTO opportunity would greatly enhance the strategic road map of FMITI as outline by Adeniyi, particularly in the areas of trade promotion and facilitation.

From the Federal Ministry of Industry Trade and Investment (FMITI), the minister said Nigeria has signed on to the African Continental Free Trade Area and established the National Action Committee for its implementation.

Should the former Finance Minister clinch the WTO top job, therefore, it would help to spur the expected expansion of market access for Nigerian exporters and growth, thereby boosting job creation and supporting industrialisation.

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As such, on account of the fact that the FMITI has completed the review of all existing international investment agreements and commenced implementation of country-specific recommendations, a Nigerian WTO DG would be a boon to such initiatives.

While explaining the rationale for Nigeria’s sponsorship of Dr. Okonjo-Iweala for the WTO DG, Adebayo said: “We are rallying the support of other African countries as well as other WTO members to ensure her emergence. If our candidate succeeds, it will be the first time in the history of the multilateral trading system that an African occupies the position of Director-General.”

Coincidentally, the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment (FMITI), which he heads could be the greatest beneficiary, particularly in the area of bilateral engagements with strategic trading and investment partners, to address challenges and hindrances to trade and investment.

Some of these engagements, according to FMITI include, “the UK-Africa Investment Summit, the Nigeria-India Bi-National Commission, US-Nigeria Bi-National Commission, the Nigeria-Thailand Business Forum and the UK-Nigeria Economic Development Forum.”

Interestingly, Nigeria has been engaging other Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) members with a view to resolving a number of concerns raised on the ECOWAS Common External Tariff  (CET).

It is expected that the outcome of the renegotiation would improve Nigeria’s trade performance in ECOWAS, implementation of the National Single Window to ensure transparency and efficiency in port operations as well as the implementation of an Appropriate Gas Pricing Framework for the Manufacturing Sector.

Nigeria being an import-dependent country, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s selection as WTO DG would help quicken FMITI’s implementation of the other approved anti-smuggling measures such as, Dispute Resolution and Diplomatic Solutions; Direct Action Against Smuggling Rings; Innovative Use of Technology; Deepening and Enforcement of Penalties and Sanctions; Inland Measures; and Institutional Reforms.

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