People & Money

Almost There, Okonjo-Iweala Makes it to Last Voting Round for  WTO’s Leadership

 “Contrary to oft-repeated assertions that Nigeria is “import dependent”, the country has one of the lowest import-to-GDP ratios in the world at 10.67 %, compared to Mauritius (57.15%), Morocco (42.40%), South Africa (31.46%), Ireland (93.17 %) and Germany (39.29%).”

Nigeria’s former Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has made it to the last voting round for the leadership of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) alongside Yoo Myung-hee of South Korea.

The pruning down of the contenders from five to two, once confirmed, implies the WTO will be headed by a woman for the first time in its quarter of a century history.

Okonjo-Iweala, an economist, is currently the Chairperson of Global Vaccine Alliance (Gavi). She served as Managing Director of the World Bank after her first stint as Finance Minister in the government of former President Olusegun Obasanjo and contested to become the institution’s President in 2012 while she was Finance Minister and Coordinating Minister for the Economy under former President Jonathan. This was a futile bid as the leadership of the World Bank “is zoned” to the United States of America by convention while that of the International Monetary Fund is reserved for Europe.

Also Read: Okonjo-Iweala Scales First Hurdle To Make Top 5 For WTO’s Top Job

The World Trade Organisation leadership is one of the leadership positions in multilateral institutions that the rich western world concedes to developing countries.

Myung-hee comes into the race as a seasoned trade negotiator, having delivered deals with China, United States and others, while backing global rules. This is a distinct strength for the South Korean as Okonjo-Iweala’s expertise lies in international aid and development policy rather than trade or trade negotiation.

The pair obtained the endorsement of the European Union earlier this week for the penultimate selection stage, raising questions of whom the block will ultimately favour for the post in the grand finale in November, 2020.

The other nations of the 164-member WTO have not generally disclosed the names they chose in the latest round that held between 24th September and 6th October.

Mohammad Al-Tuwaijiri (Saudi Arabia’s royal court adviser), Amina Mohammed (Kenya’s minister of sports) and Liam Fox (United Kingdom’s one-time minister of trade) equally took part in the latest round. Eight contenders originally began the race.

The WTO’s top job became vacant in August after Brazil’s Roberto Azevedo exited one year before his tenure’s end.

Also Read: Wema Bank Appoints New Independent Non-Executive Director

Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala’s success in November may prove awkward for Nigeria, a country that seeks protectionist measures against exports from even tiny West African neigbours like Benin Republic.

President Mohammadu Buhari in August 2019 ordered Nigeria’s border shut to block imports from neighbouring countries deploying the old argument that European and Asian imports “flood” Nigerian market through Benin Republic.

Such measures mask the urgent need for Nigeria to institute a wide range of urgent economic policy and institutional reforms that can make its economy more competitive. These include bad roads, extortionate security agencies on vast stretches of regional highways and congested and poorly equipped ports.

Contrary to oft-repeated assertions that Nigeria is “import dependent”, the country has one of the lowest import-to-GDP ratios in the world at 10.67 %, compared to Mauritius (57.15%), Morocco (42.40%), South Africa (31.46%), Ireland (93.17 %) and Germany (39.29%). (2015 figures).

Nigeria has for more than a decade refused to sign the Economic Partnership Agreement, a trade deal which seeks to create a free trade area between West African countries and the European Union and offers development aid targeted towards infrastructure that could enhance a country’s capacity to produce and export competitively.

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