Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, just 2 weeks in office às new director general of the World Trade Organization (WTO), held talks with President Muhammad Buhari March 15 in Abuja. The meeting was meant to achieve two things. First, Okonjo-Iweala, a Nigerian ex finance minister, wanted to thank Buhari for pushing her candidacy for the WTO job. She confirmed that the President wrote several letters and called many world leaders to support her candidacy.
During the Aso Rock Presidential Villa meeting, she told her host: “You nominated me, you wrote hundreds of letters, called up hundreds of world leaders. Without your personal and direct intervention, it may not have worked. The people of Nigeria also supported me massively. The youths were wonderful, always encouraging, backing me up on social media. Mr President, the world recognizes what you have done. Since its establishment, only men have led the WTO. Now, a woman has emerged for the first time, and she’s a Nigerian. We are so honoured.
Second, Okonjo-Iweala used the opportunity the visit offered to suggest a way out of Nigeria’s economic quagmire. She lamented that the nation’s share of world trade was 0.33 per cent, only a small fraction of what it could do. “Our share in Africa’s trade is 19 per cent, which is below our share of Africa’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).”
However, she believed the economy could be turned around. “I like to look at the optimistic side; when I saw this I knew that there was potential for us to do much. And that is the message I want to convey to the country.” She was clear about what to do. “This means that we must step up our action on the economy, we must do better and harder in several ways because of our youth who are waiting for jobs.
“Nigeria needs to focus on adding value . . . We are an oil and gas-based economy, and that has sustained us and still will. But the world is moving away from fossil fuel,” she said, adding that trade negotiations on agricultural issues were very important for Nigeria because the country was active in agriculture and also in the ongoing Joint Statement Initiatives pro lateral negotiations. It is equally involved in e-commerce, domestic services regulations, investment facilitation, micro small and medium enterprises and women in trade.
Mrs Okonjo-Iweala, while stating that Nigeria was 103 out of 167 countries in logistics, advised that it was a potential area for the country to invest in to improve its logistics. According to her, the country can take advantage of trade within the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). Speaking on COVID-19, Okonjo-Iweala said the WTO must contribute more to providing solutions to the issues of vaccine access, therapeutics and diagnostics, especially to poor countries.
We welcome Okonjo-Iweala’s decision to make her country of birth the first nation to visit after taking office at the WTO on March 1, and more so her appreciation of Buhari’s contribution to her victory. That was the right thing to do, giving honour to whom it is due. Traditionally Nigerian. Her immediate task is to prepare for the WTO Ministerial Conference scheduled for this December. We wish her the very best regarding this upcoming event and others after that.