US President, Joe Biden

About five months after the disengagement of the former Director General of the World Trade Organisation WTO, Roberto Azevêdo, the organisation has remained, a development that is currently taking its toll on global trade activities, already battered by the Covid-19 outbreak.

 Azevêdo, a Brazillian stepped down on August 31, 2020, one year earlier to the end of his tenure to prospect for a job at PepsiCo Inc. and is yet to be replaced, nearly two months after the selection processes have been concluded in most transparent manner. These processes saw the emergence of Africa’s Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former Managing Director of the World Bank. She was also at various times, Nigeria’s Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of Foreign Affairs.

In addition to negatively affecting global trading activities, especially multi-lateral trading rules and systems, this development has whittled down the influence of the WTO, and thus rising international tensions and protectionism during a COVID-induced slowdown, when the world needs more trade rules and reforms urgently.

According to President of the Centre for International Governance Innovation, Rohinton Medhora, “This is indeed a new – though alas not unsurprising – low point for the WTO,” “The organisation has been directionless for some time, several years in fact, and will now be functionally leaderless.”

It was further gathered that the vacuum in the global trade body is further made worse by the non appointment of new judges into its appeals court, which rules on international trade disputes, and have therefore been paralysed.

Elected DG of the WTO, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

Available records show that in 1999, a similar four-month gap leadership vacuum was widely seen as damaging, and guidelines to prevent a repeat envisaged by the 164 members selecting a temporary replacement from among four current deputies. This is however yet to be achieved, thus leaving a vacuum that will last for a longer time.

Analysts believe that this might also be a huge slight on Africa as a whole, but have also expressed shock over the loud silence of most African countries regarding the plight of Nigeria’s Okonjo-Iweala. But diplomats note that this is not the first time that the continent’s experts will suffer such fate.

The fate of Okonjo-Iweala, which has been largely attributed to the threat by former President Donald Trump’s United States Government to quit the WTO, coincides with Trump’s threat to also exit from the World Health Organisation WHO under the headship of another African, Ethiopia’s Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. A similar development occurred during the re-election of Akinwumi Adesina to lead the African Development Bank AfDB late last year.

While the entire global trading community looks up to the newly elected President Joe Biden, who officially assumed duty January 20, 2021 to take urgent steps to address the vacuum at the WTO, Okonjo-Iweala remains calm, resolute and poised to deliver the much needed reforms at the global trade body.

She has responded with decorum, expressing her satisfaction regarding the success and continued progress of her WTO leadership bid.

In a recent Twitter message, she said that she was, “Very humbled to be declared the candidate with the largest, broadest support among members and most likely to attract consensus.

“We move onto the next step despite hiccups. We’re keeping the positivity going.”

On her competencies, she said: “I have the skills that are needed”, citing her experience at the top at the World Bank and as Nigeria’s Finance Minister as training enough for the position.

“I am a Development Economist and you cannot do that without looking at trade. Trade is a central part of development,” Iweala stated. “So, I have been doing it. In my whole career at the World Bank, I was working on trade policy reform in middle and low-income countries at the bank.”

She added: “Those who say I don’t have trade, they are mistaken. I think the qualities I have are even better, because I combine development economics with trade knowledge, along with finance, and you need this combination of skills to lead the WTO. I think I have the skills that are needed. I am a trade person.”

She currently serves as a board chairperson of the Global Vaccine Alliance Gavi and a board member of social media giant, Twitter.

Okonjo-Iweala would make double history as the first woman and African to emerge as WTO Director General.