World Trade Organization Contender Ascertained she has both the Political savvy and Business Aptitude to Resuscitate Trade Division between the USA and China
By Abdul Rahman Bangura–
NEW AFRICA BUSINESS NEWS (NABN) Freetown, Sierra Leone- Nigeria’s World Trade Organization hopeful, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to supersede Roberto Azevedo as Director General , argues to have the political leverage and marketing mastery to unite the US and China on trade.
The erstwhile Minister of Finance of Nigeria – Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala declared that she had a trace report of trading with both Beijing and Washington as Nigeria’s longest-serving Finance Minister and as Managing Director of the World Bank.
“I’ve been able to work with senior Chinese counterparts and senior American counterparts,” she says. “That’s what gives me the advantage: to be able to work with both sides and listen to them carefully.”
She is pitted against , who claims he has the technical expertise – as a former WTO official – to reform the paralyzed institution. However, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala said: “The issues aren’t just technical. If they were, they would have been solved long ago. The WTO needs strong political skills at the moment.”
If authorized, she would be the first African and first female director of the World Trade Organization. “A woman brings attributes that could help in the difficult situation we are in,” she said. “We are unique people who are very persuasive, we have strong listening and negotiating skills.”
Yoo Myung-hee, the South Korean Trade Minister, became the fifth candidate to officially join the race this week, alongside, the former Modovan foreign minister Tudor Ulianovschi and Jesus Seade, the Mexican economist, diplomat, and for,mer senior WTO official.
In the World Trade Organization’s twenty-five year history, there may never be a difficult time to be its boss.
The supreme court of trade – its appellate body – has been paralyzed since December, leaving the rules-based international system paralyzed and trade itself choked by trade wars and a pandemic.
“It’s the turn of someone who is qualified and who merits it,” she says. “If on top of that, the person is an African and a woman, why not?
“A woman brings attributes that could help in the difficult situation we are in. We are unique people who are very persuasive, we have strong listening and negotiating skills.
These are things a lot of women have – I’m not saying men don’t have them – but my training and experience have heightened these qualities.”
Having previously negotiated with both Beijing and Washington, her pitch is that she has a track record of being able to “work with both sides and listen to them carefully” – but says it wouldn’t be up to her to resolve their trade war.
“I see the job of the next director-general as restoring the WTO, breaking out of the challenges it faces and restoring it to serve the multilateral trading system that the world needs. China and the US are members so I’ll be looking to see how I can serve their interests so that the system can be stronger. But my desire is to be there for all members.”
Her official competitors so far – nominations close on July 8 – include the Egyptian Hamid Mamdouh, a former WTO Director of Trade in Services and Investment; Jesús Seade, the Mexican economist, diplomat and former senior WTO official; Yoo Myung-hee, the South Korean Trade Minister; and the former Modovan Foreign Minister Tudor Ulianovschi. Others including Phil Hogan, the EU Trade Commissioner; the Labour peer Lord Mandelson, one of his predecessors; and Liam Fox, the former Trade Secretary – have yet to throw their hats into the ring.
Against Mamdouh, Okonjo-Iweala is competing for the authorization of the 55-nation African Union (AU) which, in expectation of the end of Azevedo’s second four-year term, had teamed up three candidates to be whittled down to one, only for the process to be interrupted by Azevedo’s shock resignation.
Another surprise came when Nigeria replaced Yonov Frederick Agah, Azevedo’s Deputy, with Okonjo-Iweala as its official candidate, despite Agah having already made it to the AU’s shortlist. Benin then withdrew its AU-backed candidate, Éloi Laourou, and tossed its support behind Okonjo-Iweala – which evacuates Mamdouh as the final name on the AU’s original list.
However, Okonjo-Iweala, says: “The notion that there’s an AU candidate at the moment is not true. We’re working extremely hard to make sure we bring Africa to support me and it’s going quite well.”
This week, she received the official backing of the 15-member Economic Community of West African States.
Mamdouh has also claimed his years of experience at the WTO make him “the engineer to fix the car”, but Okonjo-Iweala says what the next Director-General needs are politically savvy. “The issues aren’t just technical. If they were, they would have been solved long ago.
“I’m not from the WTO but that’s good. We need a fresh pair of eyes and ears that stands back and looks at things from a different perspective and picks up where the intersections are and where we can make progress.”
That said, she disputes claims that her weakness is a lack of trade experience. “When I was at the World Bank I worked on tough economic reform programs in low-income and middle-income countries where we were reforming trade regimes and trying to help them have more open trading systems that could help them build prosperity,” she says.
“As a minister of finance, customs were reporting to me. You can’t manage the whole of customs and not be into trade.”
For her, trade will have a monumental role in the global post-pandemic economic recovery. Now chairwoman of the board at Gavi, the vaccine alliance backed by the Bill Gates Foundation, she notes the rise in export restrictions on medical supplies and equipment, as well as the trillions of dollars governments have pumped into economies around the world to keep them afloat. “The issue is to make sure it’s not done in a trade-distorting way,” she says.
Many would wonder why anyone would want to lead an organization and admits it needs “critical reform” when its own forecasters see global merchandise trade shrinking by 18.5pc this year, against the backdrop of rising trade tensions, Covid-19 and a hostile White House.
But her optimism doesn’t waver: “Everyone realizes the multilateral trading system wants this body and that if it did not exist you would have to invent it.”
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