VICTORIOUS OKONJO-IWEALA PLEDGES TO REBRAND, REFORM WTO AS DG

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•Promises to prioritise access to COVID-19 vaccines

•Buhari, others hail her emergence

Deji Elumoye, Chuks Okocha, James Emejo, Udora Orizu in Abuja, Obinna Chima and Dike Onwuamaeze in Lagos

With her emergence yesterday as the first African and first female to be the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, unveiled her agenda, which include working with other members of the organisation in reforming and rebranding the global trade body.

Okonjo-Iweala, in her acceptance speech after the WTO’s General Council agreed by consensus to select her as the organisation’s seventh director-general, also highlighted the need for procedural reforms so that the WTO would better serve its members.

Her coronation as the WTO DG, after a nerve-wracking delay caused by former President Donald Trump’s objection to her candidacy threw Nigeria and other countries into a rapture with President Muhammadu Buhari, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, President of the Senate, Dr. Ahmad Lawan; House of Representatives Speaker, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila; President of the European Central Bank, Ms. Christine Lagarde; and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) showering encomiums on her.

She is to assume office on March 1, 2021, and her term, renewable, will expire on 31 August 2025.

According to her, the rulebook of the Geneva-based organisation is outdated and its rules lag behind those of some regional and bilateral trade agreements, which are incorporating many innovations.

Okonjo-Iweala stated that the WTO’s rulebook must be updated to take into account 21st century realities such as e-commerce and the digital economy.

She said: “It has been a long and tough road, full of uncertainty, but now it is the dawn of a new day and the real work can begin.

“Some WTO rules and procedures also need to be revisited, including the procedure for appointing director-general.”

According to her, the WTO secretariat should be strengthened, to enable it to provide cutting-edge services to members.

She explained: “An important change would be to move away from the current silo way of working, to a more team-based and task-based approach.

“The secretariat has to be fit-for-purpose to take account of the changing dynamics of the global economy and priorities of members.

“The challenges facing the WTO are numerous and tricky, but they are not insurmountable. There is hope, there is light at the end of the tunnel if we work together in a transparent manner that builds trust, build bridges and diffuses political tension and encourages convergence.”

She said the pandemic and its economic fallouts have highlighted the interdependence of countries, the importance of multilateralism and the need to strengthen collaboration in order to achieve fair and balanced agreements that provides opportunities for all WTO members, particularly the least developed countries.

“I am passionate about these goals and I look forward to working closely with all of you in the coming months and years, to help build the WTO that we all want,” she added.

Okonjo-Iweala said a key priority for her would be to work with members to quickly address the economic and health consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I am honoured to have been selected by WTO members as WTO director-general.

“A strong WTO is vital if we are to recover fully and rapidly from the devastation wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I look forward to working with members to shape and implement the policy responses we need to get the global economy going again.

“Our organisation faces a great many challenges but working together we can collectively make the WTO stronger, more agile and better adapted to the realities of today,” former Nigeria’s finance minister said.

She said the pandemic had heightened the burdens and accelerated the role of e-commerce, expected to grow significantly in the coming years.

Okonjo-Iweala said the WTO would work to address the nexus between trade and climate change, adding that it will be important for members to broaden negotiations on environment, goods and services.

“This would help promote trust and encourage members to explore further ways in which trade can contribute positively to an improved climate,” she added.

Okonjo-Iweala also noted that improving access to markets for least-developed countries was also paramount, stressing the need to level the playing field so as to provide opportunities for small-scale farmers.

“We must also strengthen disciplines on industrial subsidies. In that regard, it would be important to ensure that subsidies granted by members to their state-owned enterprises in certain situations do not distort competition,” she stated.

Commenting on Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment, the WTO General Council Chair, David Walker of New Zealand, who, together with co-facilitators Ambassador Dacio Castillo (Honduras) and Ambassador Harald Aspelund (Iceland) that led the nine-month DG selection process, was quoted to have said: “This is a very significant moment for the WTO.

On behalf of the General Council, I extend our warmest congratulations to Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on her appointment as the WTO’s next director-general and formally welcome her to this General Council meeting.

“Dr Ngozi, on behalf of all members, I wish to sincerely thank you for your graciousness in these exceptional months, and for your patience.

“We look forward to collaborating closely with you, Dr Ngozi, and I am certain that all members will work with you constructively during your tenure as director-general to shape the future of this organisation.”

Buhari, Atiku, Lawan, Okowa, Others Hail Okonjo-Iweala’s over New Job

The emergence of Okonjo-Iweala as the first female director-general of the WTO has elicited reactions from the executive, the legislative arms, the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), former Vice President Atiku and the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Chief Adeniyi Adebayo, as they described the development as a good thing to happen to Nigeria.

President Muhammadu Buhari said Okonjo-Iweala’s emergence has brought more honour and joy to Nigeria.

Buhari, in a statement by his media assistant, Malam Garba Shehu, felicitated with the former Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance.

“As the Harvard-educated and renowned economist takes up another onerous task of service to the world and humanity, the president believe her track record of integrity, diligence and passion for development will continue to yield positive results and rewards to mankind,” the statement added.

Buhari stated that Okonjo-Iweala, who over the years set major records of economic reforms in Nigeria as minister of finance, and later as minister of foreign affairs, will excel in her new position and validate the global mandate of repositioning and strengthening WTO.

Atiku welcomed the historic emergence of Okonjo-Iweala as WTO DG.

“It is not hyperbole when I say that no one could be more qualified for the job of Director-General of the World Trade Organisation than her, and I congratulate her for her success at being the first female and African DG of the WTO.

“She is an apostle of free trade and an astute manager of people and resources and the world will be a much more prosperous place by her elevation to this enviable height,” the former vice-president said.

The European Union (EU) also welcomed the new WTO’s appointment.

Expressing delight at the news of Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment, the President of the EU, Ursula von der Leyen, pledged Europe’s support for her.

“This is a historic moment for the entire world. I’m so glad to see a woman from Africa at the head of the @WTO.

Europe is fully behind you. We support the reform of the WTO and will help you protect the rules-based multilateral trading system,” she wrote on Twitter.

The Vice President of the EU, Valdis Dombrovskis, said the union looked forward to working closely with Okonjo-Iweala.

“Congrats @NOIweala on your ratification to become next @wto Director-General! The EU salutes your historic achievement as 1st female & 1st African to hold this position. We look forward to working closely with you to reform the WTO, making it fit for purpose for today’s world,” he tweeted.

The EU Commissioner for International Partnership, Jutta Urpilainen, assured the former minister of the Union’s support as she leads the WTO.

“I’m convinced that you are the right person to lead the modernisation of the WTO, and I look forward to working with you. As you know, you can count on @EU_Commission support,” she tweeted.

Also, the President of the European Central Bank and former Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Christine Lagarde, in a tweet yesterday wrote: “Congratulations to my friend Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on becoming the first female Director-General of the @wto.

“I’ve known Ngozi for many years. Her strong will and determination will drive her to tirelessly promote free trade to the benefit of people worldwide.”

President of the Senate, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, while congratulating Okonjo-Iweala on her election, applauded Nigeria on the latest feat of its great daughter on the international stage.

Lawan, in a statement by his media adviser, Mr. Ola Awoniyi, hailed the quiet but dogged diplomacy of Nigeria and the unwavering commitment of Buhari that contributed to Okonjo-Iweala’s ultimate triumph in the prolonged contest for the position.

Lawan urged her to deploy her famed intellect, experience, energy and integrity in leading the WTO to promote global prosperity through fair trade.

Gbajabiamila also congratulated Okonjo-Iweala, saying her appointment is a testament to her years of experience in the financial sector both at home and abroad.

According to him, her confirmation has once again proved that Nigeria has experts that can compete favourably both at home and abroad.

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