Nigeria’s former Minister of Finance and frontrunner for the post of Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has declared her plan to lead a global trade organisation that would bring about shared prosperity to all members.
In her statement to the General Council, Wednesday, Okonjo-Iweala said: “We must have a WTO that works for the benefit of all members regardless of size or level of economic development. LDCs and Small Vulnerable Economies (SVEs) should have opportunities to participate in regional and global supply chains to enhance their presence in the trading system.
“It should also be responsive to the challenge of facilitating the greater participation of women in international trade, particularly in developing countries, where greater efforts should be made to include women-owned enterprises in the formal sector.
“Considering the plethora of challenges facing the global economy, including COVID-19 there is need for coherence in the policy responses of relevant international organisations, including the FAO, World Bank, IMF, IFC, the regional development banks and WHO and UN System. As noted by the G20 Eminent Persons Group, institutions sometimes work at 10 cross purposes.
“If selected, I will deepen the working relationships with all relevant institutions to create synergies and coordinate support to Members.“
She said that the stalemate in multilateral trade negotiations has led many Members in recent years to embark on plurilateral negotiations to advance particular issues.
“The energy associated with those discussions has helped refocus attention on the WTO and would be best if these negotiations could produce outcomes that reinforce the multilateral trading system. Members have also entered into regional trade agreements to secure access to markets, tackle issues that are not sufficiently addressed in the WTO or that are not part of the multilateral rulebook.
“RTAs can complement multilateral efforts, and their success in tackling new and traditional issues should inspire WTO Members to do likewise. But despite their benefits, RTAs cannot be a perfect substitute for the WTO is needed to ensure that trade and global markets remain open and are further extended. Its convening power and ability to provide a unique forum where countries can come together around shared interests is still vital and, in fact, indispensable.
“If the WTO did not exist, we would have to invent it. Given the interconnectedness of the world’s economies, a collective response to current and emerging challenges will always be stronger than individual responses. As we put it in my Igbo language, Aka nni Kwo aka ekpe, aka ekepe akwo akanni wancha adi ocha (If the right hand washes the left hand, and the left-hand washes the right hand, then both become clean).
To strengthen secretariat
She added that she would strengthen the secretariat to make it more alive to its responsibilities.
“The Secretariat must be strengthened to enable it to better support members in negotiations, implementation, monitoring and dispute settlement.
“Members’ views differ on a number of fundamental issues, such as special and differential treatment or the need for the WTO to tackle new issues and develop new or enhanced rules to deal with SOEs and agricultural subsidies, for example.
“Trade tensions among the membership have flared up, threatening the fundamental architecture of the MTS. With all these, the WTO, unfortunately, is now perceived by some as an inefficient organization that has failed to keep abreast of developments in the global economy,” she said.
Dr Okonjo-Iweala added that there was a need to ensure that stimulus packages granted by some members do not undermine their WTO commitments by distorting production and trade.
“If all these challenges are to be overcome, it will require strong engagement and commitment from all WTO Members. This is the only way the WTO can produce concrete results, and better respond to the needs of Members of all sizes and levels of economic development.
“If selected, I consider that I am well placed to work with members to address these challenges. First, I am a strong believer in the role of trade and of the MTS to bring shared prosperity.
Building trust among members
The candidate said there need to build trust among members.
Her words: “Confronting the challenges the WTO faces will necessarily require building trust among the membership.
“Current problems are not solely of a technical nature. If they were, they would have been solved long ago, given the technical expertise available among members and in the WTO Secretariat.”
On political solutions, Okonjo-Iweala said: “A number of these problems require political solutions, and deep experience in multilateral organisations, skills I would bring to the job.
“Throughout my career, I have been involved in difficult negotiations with high political stakes, such as tough economic reform programs, including trade policy reforms in a variety of middle and low-income countries, and debt relief negotiations with both the Paris and London clubs.
“I have brokered numerous agreements that have produced win-win outcomes. I have the skills to effectively engage governments and other stakeholders and build consensus around areas of common interest.”