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Published On: Wed, Sep 2nd, 2020

Why WTO needs a trade consensus candidate

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By Samuel O. Adeyemi

In an era of mercantile squabbling between the two leading economies of the world, United States of America and China, it becomes necessary for decision-makers at the World Trade Organization (WTO) to go for a Director-General that would build the bridge between these two nations and other nations of the world.
With over three decades of experience as an economist and international development expert, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala surely fits the profile of a DG who can smoothen trade relations between the different economic interests around the world. She possesses extraordinary human relations skills as well as an impressive network in the two leading economies of the world to restore normalcy to the global economy.
Consensus is the platform on which the World Trade Organization (WTO) was built since its establishment in 1948. And as the organization commences the search for a new Director-General, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is the worthy consensus candidate who can bring back the glory of the organization.
Her response during her interview with the BBC on how to manage the bickering between China and the US positions her as a candidate who understands and can assuage the concerns of both nations. In the interview, she highlights China’s development quest across African nations, while at the same time stressing the need for China and the world to acknowledge the trade concerns and objections of the United States. This is the hallmark of a consensus builder. Consensus is about finding the convergence between two sharply divided views on any issue.
This is no time for any squabble. Covid19 is wreaking major havoc on the global economy. What the world needs at this moment in history is someone who can bring every stakeholder to the table to chart a new course for the new normal in the global economy.
Grandstanding will wreak havoc on the global economy. When two elephants fight, the grass would suffer. WTO members must realize that this is the moment to stand on the principle of consensus which can help in stabilizing the global economy, reduce the tension between China and the US, and halt the trend of lording over smaller economies of the world.
If WTO must rediscover its ‘consensus identity’, then it needs a woman who is accepted across the nations of the world. Mind, consensus is built on the altar of compassion. If that is the case, who is best positioned to inject compassion into WTO’s DNA among those jostling for the position of the organization’s DG other than Dr Okonjo-Iweala?
She did not mince words in her promise to design mechanisms to foster transparency, predictability and stability in the Multilateral Trading System (MTS), monitoring trade developments, promoting exchanges, and building trust.
All through her career as a renowned developmental economist, she has eschewed the winner-take-all mentality in trade advanced by some nations of the world. She spent over 25 years at the World Bank and rose through the ranks to become the Managing Director. In that role, she promoted negotiations and dispute resolution channels.
The global acceptance of the message of the fight for racial justice and women’s rights should also be a pointer to the members of WTO that the time has come for the world to walk the talk and unanimously appoint a black woman of substance as the DG of WTO.
The chants of Black Lives Matter will be meaningful if WTO shows the world that a black woman is well qualified to restore shared understanding into the global trade body.
When Dr Okonjo-Iweala was the Minister of Finance in Nigeria, she led an intensive but fruitful effort to ensure debt relief for Nigeria. The efforts paid off as the Paris and London Clubs of creditors granted Nigeria debt forgiveness.
Not only that, as a minister in Nigeria, she effectively engaged governments and other stakeholders to build consensus around areas of common interest by working on the ECOWAS Common External Tariffs. This is an effective stakeholder engagement skill at its best.
Recently, she started another advocacy to ensure that the developed economies of the world grant debt forgiveness to African nations given the scourge of the Covid19 virus. Her effort is gradually yielding results as China granted some African nations a two-year moratorium on all external debt repayment.
As chair of the board of Global Vaccine Alliance (GAVI), she has also extended her advocacy for advanced nations to consider African nations in the distribution of Covid19 vaccines.
Not only that, but she is also pushing for a strong response against the Covid19 virus in Africa. She is the AU Special Envoy mobilizing international financial support for the fight against Covid19 and a WHO Special Envoy for Access to Covid19 Tools Accelerator.
If truly the WTO’s main function is to ensure that trade flows as smoothly, as predictably and as freely as possible among nations of the world, then, no one comes close to the pedigree of Dr Okonjo-Iweala to advance consensus, diffuse (political) tensions, and build trust whilst ensuring that trade flows smoothly among economies of the world to boot.

Samuel O. Adeyemi is a media strategist based in Lagos, Nigeria.

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