Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

Former Managing Director of the World Bank, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has said that she would bring a lot of reforms, international political and diplomatic exposures to the World Trade Organisation WTO when elected the Director General come next month, insisting she is the best candidate for the job among other contenders.

Recall that Nigeria’s leader, Muhammadu Buhari had last month, nominated her as the country’s flag bearer. Her nomination was sequel to the resignation of the current Director-General of the intergovernmental organisation, Roberto Azevedo, who is stepping down from his position in August 2020, a year ahead of the end of his tenure.

 Okonjo-Iweala, who was a two-time Nigeria’s Finance Minister and coordinating Minister of the economy, while speaking in a television interview monitored in Abuja, noted that she is the most suitable candidate for the job, given her global credentials and experience as a development economist, saying that she comes on board with robust experience and global political contacts and diplomacy.

She noted that the WTO at this point in time, needs so many reforms that would boost global trade and commerce, especially geared towards promoting digital economy, electronic- commerce as well as developing Small and Medium Scale Enterprises SMEs, and youths’ development.

Okonjo-Iweala, who is co-Chair of the Global Commission for the Economy and Climate, argued that since the establishment of the WTO about 72 years ago, neither a woman nor an African has headed the agency.

While responding to a question on why she thinks she is the best man for the job, she said: “I am the best woman for the job. The WTO at this point needs someone that has the global economic background, diplomatic and political experiences and so my experience at the World Bank and you know I was two-time Minister of Finance in Nigeria, all these experiences and contacts would be brought to bear on the WTO job”.

Recently appointed a Special Envoy to the World Health Organisation WHO on the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, Okonjo-Iweala observed that many countries have placed trade restrictions and tariffs on the shipment of pharmaceutical products, which she argued was not good, especially under the current realities imposed by the corona virus across the globe.

She further argued that even if there are urgent economic reasons that justify such new tariffs and restrictions, they ought to be phased so as not to obstruct free flow of legitimate trade, a development the WTO needs to critically examine and make adjustments where necessary.

On the face-off between the United States and China, which took a worsening dimension following the outbreak of the coronavirus and leading to trade restrictions, she noted that as the DG of the WTO, she would make concerted efforts towards building bridges. She further argued that building such bridges requires one with the right global contacts, one that understands both international politics and diplomacy, all of which she has in large stock, given her global exposures.

According to her, the whole essence of the WTO is to promote trade facilitation, adding that if there are trade blockade and restrictions among member nation, the organisation should promptly step in to resolve such differences to enhance trade.

On fears raised in some quarters that the African continent and other developing countries might be left behind in the post COVID-19 scheme of things in the world, she assured that the organisation under her watch would ensure that everyone is carried along in the interest of the global economy.

She also expressed gratitude to the Federal Government of Nigeria, especially President Buhari, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyema and Chief of Staff to the President, Ibrahim Gambari, among several others, who are currently rallying global support to ensure her victory.

Okonjo-Iweala had a 25-year career at the World Bank in Washington DC as a development economist, rising to the position of Managing Director.

As Managing Director, she had oversight responsibility for the World Bank’s $81 billion operational portfolio in Africa, South Asia, Europe and Central Asia. Okonjo-Iweala spearheaded several World Bank initiatives to assist low-income countries during the 2008 – 2009, food crises, and later during the financial crisis.

In 2010, she was Chair of the IDA replenishment, the World Bank’s successful drive to raise $49.3 billion in grants and low interest credit for the poorest countries in the world. During her time at the World Bank, she was also a member of the Commission on Effective Development Cooperation with Africa, which was set up by the Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen of Denmark, and held meetings between April and October 2008.