“A strong WTO is vital if we want to fully and quickly recover from the devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Our organization faces many challenges, but working together can make the WTO stronger, more agile, and better adapted to today’s reality. “
– The newly appointed Director General of the World Trade Organization, dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria, on Monday, February 15, 2021
Meritorious appointment of dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweale on 15 February 2021 for the first woman, the first African Director-General of the 26-year-old World Trade Organization based in Geneva, is commendable and noteworthy. The General Council of the World Trade Organization agreed on Monday by consensus to elect the two-year-old former finance minister of Nigeria as the seventh director general of the organization, which takes effect on March 1, 2021. Its renewable term expires on August 31, 2025.
The WTO says on its website that its functions include: Managing WTO trade agreements; Trade Negotiation Forum; Settlement of trade disputes; Monitoring national trade policies; Technical assistance and training for developing countries and Cooperation with other international organizations. Founded on 1 January 1995 and with a membership of 164 countries representing 98 per cent of world trade, the World Trade Body has 623 employees.
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According to the New York Times of February 15, 2021, Okonjo-Iweala is coming to the WTO at a very challenging time. According to the newspaper, many critics of the organization say it has failed to fulfill several of its key mandates, including failure to advance new trade negotiations and adequate police unjust economic behavior from China. In a time of growing global protectionism and deep uncertainty for the global economy brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, the WTO’s dispute resolution system also remains crippled after challenges from the Trump administration.
Okonjo-Iweala, however, is equal to the task of overcoming the enormous challenges facing the global trade body. The 66-year-old Harvard economist and international development expert comes with wealth or academic experience and career experience. She was educated at some of the best ivory towers in the world, namely Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States. She previously graduated in magna cum laude with a degree in economics from Harvard University (1976) and earned a doctorate. PhD in Regional Economics and Development from MIT, 1981. She has earned honorary degrees from 15 universities around the world, including some of the most prestigious colleges. Okonjo-Iweala has had a 25-year career at the World Bank as a development economist, scaling second as Managing Director, Operations 2007-2011. She sits on the boards of Standard Chartered Bank, Twitter, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization and African Risk Capability union.
Dr. Okonjo-Iweala was twice Minister of Finance of Nigeria, from 2003 to 2006, 2011 to 2015, and briefly Minister of Foreign Affairs in 2006, the first woman to hold both positions in the country’s history. In 2005, Euromoney named her Global Finance Minister of the Year. As finance minister in Nigeria, she led negotiations with the Paris Club of creditors that led to the cancellation of Nigerian debt of $ 30 billion, including the complete cancellation of $ 18 billion. In her second term as Minister of Finance, she was responsible for leading reforms that improved the transparency of government accounts and strengthened anti-corruption institutions, including the implementation of the Government’s Integrated Financial Management System, Integrated Personnel and Payroll Management System and Single Treasury Accounts.
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The Princess of Ogwashi-Ukua in the State of Delta, Okonjo-Iweala is the founder of Nigeria’s first indigenous research organization NOI-Polls. She also founded the Center for the Study of African Economics, a research center based in Abuja, Nigeria. She has written many books, including “Fighting Corruption Dangerous: The Story Behind the Title” (MIT Press, 2018), “Reforming the Non-Reforming: Lessons from Nigeria” (MIT Press, 2012).
Okonjo-Iweala is listed as one of the eight women anti-corruption fighters who inspire (2019), one of the world’s 50 greatest leaders (Fortune, 2015), the Top 100 most influential people in the world (TIME, 2014), the Top 100 global thinkers Foreign Policy, 2011 and 2012), Top 100 Most Powerful Women in the World (Forbes, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014), Top 3 Most Powerful Women in Africa (Forbes, 2012), Top 10 Most Influential Women in Africa (Forbes, 2011) , The 100 best women in the world (UK Guardian, 2011), the 150 best women in the world (Newsweek, 2011) and the 100 most inspiring men in World Delivering for Girls and Women (Women Deliver, 2011). It is also listed among the 73 “brilliant” business influences in the world by Condé Nast International.
What lessons can you learn from the life of this amazing Amazon and a worthy “Plenipotentiary Ambassador of Nigeria”? The first is that every child should be treated equally whether male or female. Had Okonjo-Iwealu’s parents not educated her and she was married as a teenager with no life skills, she would not have been able to make a difference in the world. The second is that hard work pays off. A quarter of a century at the World Bank and the life of selfless service spreading in the private and public sectors brought her this lofty appointment as DG WTO. Third, her spirit that never says is a role model. She is known as the first candidate and black woman to run for president of the World Bank Group in 2012, when she lost, and in 2020, the United States under Donald Trump opposed her candidacy as a consensus candidate for the WTO director general. Eventually, through a lot of diplomatic ships, she eventually emerged as the winner for the plum business after defeating seven more candidates.
How will Nigeria get the most out of its WTO leadership? There are not many analysts who are optimistic about the advantages of Nigeria due to our monocultural and unproductive economy. However, I am of the opinion that Okonjo-Iweala could be helpful in our trade negotiations with other countries, especially with world economic powers. Moreover, it may be able to influence a thing or two in favor of its home country, especially now that Nigeria has signed an agreement on the African continental free trade area. It could also help Nigeria and indeed Africa benefit from the COVID-19 vaccine. Overall, I look forward to making Okonjo-Iweala make international trade fair, especially to all WTO members.
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In order for Nigeria, however, to get the maximum benefit from Okonjo-Iweale’s leadership in the WTO, there is a need for our indigenous industrialists to increase their productivity. The federal government can do a lot by ensuring ease of doing business, so that Nigerian goods will become globally competitive. The added value to raw materials will also allow Nigerian exporters to earn more revenue. We earn less from the export of crude oil, crude solid minerals and agricultural products, and if these goods are processed into a finished or semi-finished product, our entrepreneurs will earn much more foreign exchange.
Sincere congratulations to all Nigerians in the diaspora making the country of birth proud. Just last August, Nigeria’s former agriculture minister, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, was unanimously re-elected president of the African Development Bank Group after initial U.S. disapproval. His great performance in his first term ensured that. Earlier this month, U.S. President Joe Biden appointed Nigeria-born Enoha Titilayo Ebong as acting U.S. Trade and Development Agency. He previously appointed Nigeria-born Adewale Adeyemo, 39, as the new deputy finance minister. Adeyemo is the first brunette to play the role. On January 2, 2021, Biden appointed another Nigerian, Osaremen Okol (26), as a COVID Policy Advisor and a member of the COVID-19 Response Teams. On January 12, the U.S. president also appointed Nigeria-born Funmi Olorunnipa Badejo, a 26-year-old lawyer and former student at Berkeley College of Law, as one of 20 members of the White House adviser’s office.
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