Emma Emeozor and Romanus Ugwu, (Abuja)
Front runner for the office of the Director General of the World Trade Organisation and former Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, in a veiled message yesterday declared she has the capacity to reform the world body for the benefit of all members.
In a press briefing in New York, after her appearance before the selection committee, she told United States President Donald Trump, or whoever succeeds him in the forth coming presidential election, not to pull the US out of the organisation. “Don’t leave now: let’s fix what needs to be fixed,” she said.
Washington has threatened to withdraw the membership of the US from the organization, alleging poor management and “unfair trade.” The US president had told Fox news that WTO was established “to benefit everybody but us”, adding: “We lose the lawsuits, almost all of the lawsuits in the WTO.” He was more specific when he spoke with Bloomberg. He warned: “If they don’t shape up, I would withdraw from the WTO.”
Trump is not comfortable with the organisation’s open trade policy which is counter to his protectionist trade policies. US is one of the founding fathers of the organization charged with the responsibility of regulating global trade and dispute resolution among members.
Okonjo-Iweala, a former Managing Director at the World Bank and currently the Board Chair of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, is Nigeria and the Economic Community of West Africa’s candidate for WTO DG. She is contesting the position with seven other candidates.
Watchers of the affairs of the organisation say the organisation requires an experienced boss who will be courageous to effect radical reform. Okonjo-Iweala, however, believes she is the right boss the organisation needs now as she hopes to bring to bear her vast experience in financial and intercontinental business management.
The 164-member organisation is facing several challenges that if not addressed quickly could paralyse it. They include the undermining of the rules of the organisation, as in the case of the trade dispute between the US and China. Both countries have refused to observe the rules of the organisation, countries involved in trade disputes are allegedly exploiting “a loophole in WTO law that permits its 164 members to take any action they consider necessary to defend “essential security interests,” the organization has been unable to adjudicate or intervene in trade disputes because of the blockade of nominees to its appellate body,
Meanwhile, the All Progressives Congress (APC) Progressive Governors Forum (PGF) has declared support for Okonjo-Iweala. Chairman of the forum and Governor of Kebbi, Abubakar Atiku Bagudu, in a statement said President Muhammadu Buhari, in endorsing her candidature, has not only presented the best to the world, but also presented a credible person with integrity.
“The literal freezing of world trade occasioned by the coronavirus pandemic serve as a stark warning that we need to have a better trade system. Whoever imagined that one country can ‘’seize” medical supplies going to other countries?
“Fixing the global trading system is one of the most important challenges of our time and doing so shall contribute to global prosperity more than any agreement. In so doing poverty shall be reduced and global prosperity shall be more equitably shared. Reforming the WTO is at the heart of any of such quests, and thus the choice of the next leader of the organisation matters.
“African countries have been committed to the WTO and have been patiently hopeful. The WTO Agreement was signed in 1995 at Marrakech in Morocco with many African countries being early signatories. Progress has been painstakingly slow with agreement of more equitable trade and agriculture on the table since 2001 it started in Doha, Qatar, known as Doha round.
“In nominating our own Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, President Buhari is not just presenting a Nigerian Candidate but also presenting to the world one of its best, albeit from Nigeria, and one who is eminently qualified to lead the task of fixing the world trading system.
“An economist, international development expert and a global public servant, Okonjo-Iweala is one candidate that come with all the experiences and expertise required to reposition the WTO. Both President Buhari and Okonjo-Iweala deserve commendation for giving the world the opportunity towards correcting the distortions in the world trading system.”
The belated nomination of Okonjo-Iweala was announced by President Buhari in June, a move objected to by the Egyptian government on the grounds that another Nigerian, Yonov Agah, had been approved by African Union (A.U) Executive Council for the same post.