The newly appointed director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on Monday thanked all Nigerians for the overwhelming support she received that culminated in her appointment on March 1, as the 7th head of the global trade body.
Okonjo-Iweala who is currently in Nigeria at the beginning of her official working visit to the member countries of the WTO thanked President Muhammadu Buhari, members of the National Assembly, Ministers and all Nigerians at home and abroad for the massive support they gave to her candidacy.
During her visit to the Minister of Industry, Trade and Industry, Niyi Adebayo, and his counterpart in the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, the WTO DG pledged to use her privileged position to ensure the WTO provided every necessary technical assistance to connect Nigeria to the global markets and diversify her economy.
“It is my singular honour to be here in Nigeria. It is no accident that I chose to come home first. I am the DG WTO for all the 164 members. But they say charity also begins at home.
“So, I have come home to say thank you to Mr President and all Nigerians who, without their hard work, my appointment would not have happened.
“I want to particularly mention ordinary Nigerians, men and women, who supported my candidacy. The amount of encouragement I received was unbelievable.
“People sent messages on social media to make their videos of me doing one thing or another in order to demonstrate the capacity to deliver on this job; those who sent words of encouragement through tweets were amazing to me. I thank them. My family and I are very grateful.
A big word of thanks
“It’s a big word of thanks to my country, Nigeria. That’s what I am here to say. It was fantastic support from the entire country. I am very proud of the role Nigeria played at the WTO,” she said.
The former two-time minister of Finance and former managing director of the World Bank commended Nigeria for the “activist role” it has been playing in WTO in Geneva, focusing on the main issues, particularly in prioritizing agriculture with a diversified economy mindset.
The other areas Nigeria has been actively engaged at the WTO, she noted included in the joint statements on the ongoing unilateral negotiations in issues of e-commerce, services on domestic regulations, investment facilitation, micro-medium and small enterprises as well as women in trade.
With Nigeria’s share in world trade currently at only 0.33 percent and the country’s share of Africa’s trade at 15 percent, the DG said this should convey a message that there are potentials to do much more.
“This means, we must step up our action on the economy. We must strive to do better and harder in several ways,” she said, adding that the reason the country should be concerned is about the teeming population of its youth, the majority of who are looking for jobs.
She said one of the actions Nigeria needs to take on the economy should be making trade instrumental to the country’s growth by adding more value to its products and trying to improve on its infrastructure to deliver trade.
“Nigeria really needs to focus on adding value and repositioning. We are an oil and gas-based economy which has sustained us for some time, and still, maybe for a couple of decades more.
“But the world is moving away from fossil fuel. Before we know it everywhere will be electric cars. So, not only because of trade but its existential for us as a country that we begin to think what we have. And we have good news because in agriculture we have a lot we can do.
Technical assistance to connect global markets
“There is an example I am going to be quoting everywhere of how we just help a cooperative of mainly women to process shea butter, WTO provided the technical assistance to connect them to markets and to help them improve the quality of their products. What happened was that they were able to produce 200 metric tons of shea butter, with an order for another 500 metric tons.
“It’s just one illustration of the fact that if we put our minds to it in the agricultural sector, there is so much we can do. So. let’s not despair. Let’s try to identify those areas where there is potential and turn our economy in that direction. So that what I am here to say.
“To sort out where can WTO support investments, which is what we are about. It’s about supporting infrastructure development both with technical assistance and in getting together other organizations. WTO is not a financial institution, but it works with financial institutions. It is one of the original economic institutions that were created with the World Bank and the IMF.
“And the advantage I have as I said is the fact that the heads of all these financial institutions are my former colleagues at the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (MF), African Development Bank (AfDB), International Finance Corporation (IFC) So, we intend to draw on them to put together the kind of support targeted at specific sectors that support our economy,” she said.
Focus on logistics
Nigeria, she said was currently 103 out of 167 counties in terms of logistics, saying suggesting a potential area Nigeria can invest in to be able to take advantage of trade within the African continental free trade area.
With 19 percent of Africa’s trade volume coming from Nigeria. Okonjo-Iweala said the recent signing of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) presents an opportunity the country can exploit to its advantage.
“We have difficulties and challenges with our economy. We have to move fast. But we have the potential to do so much better. And trade is a very strong part of that story, and the WTO can work with Nigeria to help deliver support directly with their own resources in technical assistance, training and quality of products, but also with other institutions to remove some of the bottlenecks that confront us,” she said.
Earlier, while welcoming the DG, Adebayo listed Nigeria’s expectations from the WTO as the country prepares for the forthcoming 12th Ministerial conference of the WTO in Geneva in December this year.
These include balanced and equitable outcomes in agricultural negotiations to address structural causes of food and livelihood insecurity in net food-importing developing countries and least developed countries; outcomes that would result in the reduction in overfishing and unsustainable fishing practices through fisheries subsidy negotiations. The other was outcome under the joint statement initiative that would take into account Nigeria’s developmental priorities to support efforts towards diversification, modernization of its economy and sustained growth.
At Finance Ministry
At the Ministry of Finance, the DG spoke about the challenge of access to trade finance in many countries since the 2008 global financial crisis.
In Nigeria, she said the WTO is partnering with the IFC, AfDB and AFREXIMBANK to work with local banks to finance trade, by guaranteeing more letters of credit for suppliers, warehouses, commodity financing as well as women in finance.
On trade facilitation, she said Nigeria is currently working with the World Customs Organization and the World Bank on the single window project.
The DG commended Nigeria for not only clearing Nigeria’s arrears to the WTO for 2019, but also paying for 2020 as well as an advance for 2021, with some money left for 2022.
*You can’t imagine how proud I am of the country for doing this. These are the things that when we do, then we are living up to our image as a big country that is capable. This is the image we need to pursue so that our young people can be proud. When you say the name Nigeria, they stand tall instead of looking for a corner to hide their faces. We want to push for young people and for pride in our nation,” the WTO DG said.
Earlier, the Finance called on the WTO DG to support Nigeria’s advocacy for an energy transition from fossil fuel by reducing gas emissions from the country’s economy to renewable energy.
We also want the WTO to look at how Nigeria can be supported in developing Nigeria’s bio-economic resources because this is very important to help the country transit to cleaner fuels.
It is not new that we have been overly dependent on fossil fuels. Today, crude oil still has a very significant contribution into the Nigerian economy, and where the market changes, whichever way it carries us along with it, that’s a very unhealthy situation for the country. We want to ask for support from WTO to facilitate trade and support Nigeria within the region under the AfCFTA to enhance our ease of doing business.
We need to create regional awareness about trade because there is so much information deficit which is to the country’s disadvantage. This is not just to Nigeria.