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Five things we learnt from Okonjo-Iweala’s pitch at WTO

Five things we learnt from Okonjo-Iweala’s pitch at WTO
July 17
02:53 2020

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a two-time finance minister in Nigeria, presented her manifesto before the members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on Wednesday, as she asks to be selected as the next director-general.

After a 90-minute interaction with the WTO members, Okonjo-Iweala addressed the press and also shared her vision for the WTO.

She was the second candidate and the first woman to make such a presentation at the WTO headquarters for this round of DG selection.

TheCable shares five things we learnt from her pitch in Geneva:



Okonjo-Iweala said there are trust issues among members of the WTO, and she is ready to rebuild trust within members of the organisation.

Speaking on the consensus rule which mandates that all members present at a meeting must agree on certain issues or nothing is done, Okonjo-Iweala said: “I think part of the strength of the WTO is that when there are multilateral negotiations that involve all members, arriving at an agreement by consensus because then the incentive to implement the agreement is there.

“So I think the consensus rule works, what we need to ask ourselves about is that how do we make it work better when there is no consensus you look behind that.


“I think there are issues of trust among members that are leading to these disagreements and these divisions. These questions came up from the members during my interview and I said we need to rebuild trust.

“It is even in my vision; a WTO with trust. It is not good enough to just talk about it, you have to have concrete confidence-building actions between members. Find the wins.

“If I were selected as DG WTO that is what I would do. What are the wins that bring members together to rebuild that trust? So that we can begin to show that consensus decision making works.

“It has worked in the past, it can work again, and then we restore it because that is the one that gets all members to do what has been agreed.”



Okonjo-Iweala is one of three women contesting for DG WTO

Speaking on the place of her gender in the WTO race for the office of the DG, the first female to serve as minister of finance in Nigeria, said her win should be a sign to women and girls worldwide.

“If I get chosen, I hope it is a sign, not only to women and girls in my country but to women and girls worldwide, that the world is ready, and women can do it,” she said.

“The organisation (GATT, which later became WTO) has not had a woman or an African as DG, and I think it’s been led by men from developed countries for 62 years and 10 years by men from developing countries.

“But my insistence is that choosing a DG WTO should be on merit. The best person to lead the institution that is having so many challenges should be chosen.”


“Now, I would say to them, if that person happens to be a woman, great. If she happens to be African, great. But choose who deserves to lead.”


The former World Bank number two said the US needs to remain in the WTO, stating that she would attempt to convince the US president that it is not time to leave the trade organisation.


“Surely, it is not the time now to leave the WTO that matters, we need an institution that can promote a rules-based system. Remember the trade wars of the past — we don’t want that,” she said.

“We want peace, security, and stability. That is why the WTO is needed, with its ability to arbitrate disputes within members.


“Don’t leave now, let’s try to fix what needs fixing, and if we didn’t have the WTO, we would have to invent it. That is what I would say to him.”


Okonjo-Iweala shared her trade credentials with members and journalists

There have been quite some conversations in the foreign media that Okonjo-Iweala has no trade experience as a development economist and a former finance minister. The Gavi boss refuted this claim.

“I have paid respect to my competitors because that is my nature. I do not criticise other people. I respect them. The competitors who have been saying she is not a trade expert are wrong,” she said.

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

“As finance minister, the customs service in my country reported to me. And that is all about trade facilitation. I helped my country’s negotiation with my trade minister on the ECOWAS common external tariffs. I don’t know how much more trade you can have than that.

“So 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 those combination of skills to lead the WTO. I think I have the skills that are needed. I am a trade person.”


Though Africa has three candidates vying for the same position, Okonjo-Iweala said the continent is not divided. She said it is a thing of pride to field three candidates.

“I would not say there is a sense of divide, I would say that I am proud of my continent for producing three good candidates,” Okonjo-Iweala added.

“It is up to the members to choose on merit, from all the candidates. I don’t think it’s a divide. I hope I am the candidate that is chosen and is backed, because I think I have the qualifications and the leadership characteristics to do the job.

“I am sure Africa would come behind my candidacy.”

It is unclear when the final selection will be concluded by members of the WTO — but the vision presentation will be concluded on Friday.


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