Nigeria: My First 30 Months At WTO Have Been Exciting, Challenging – Okonjo-Iweala

Director-General of World Trade Organisation (WTO), Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, yesterday, described her first 30 months as head of the global trade body as exciting and challenging.

Responding to a question by THISDAY during a media briefing on the side-lines of the ongoing WTO’s “Public Forum” in Geneva, Switzerland, Okonjo-Iweala said she felt “charged up, ready to go” and deliver results for people whenever it involved the WTO.

Okonjo-Iweala assumed office on March 1, 2021 and is both the first woman and first African to hold the position of WTO Director-General

She said, “I love my job and I feel very privileged to be here. I think it is one of the most challenging, but one of the most exciting jobs. When I came into this room for this meeting, I was quite tired, but as soon as I started talking about the issues, I just wake up because they are so interesting.

“So, I feel charged up, ready to go and I try to deliver results for people. That is the bottom-line. What I am interested in at the WTO is if the agreements we are making touching people.”

The former Nigerian Minister of Finance stated, “I know that when we do the fisheries agreements, 260 million people worldwide depend on fisheries, so getting these agreements and stopping over-fishing touches people.

“There are 12 million in Africa that depend on fishing. Agriculture also touches people. So, I feel that what we have been doing since I came have been exciting because we are delivering for people. So, I really like it here.”

Commenting on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), a free trade area encompassing most of Africa, which was established in 2018, the WTO boss described it as a very important agreement for the continent, which was expected to deliver benefits.

She disclosed that the WTO had been supporting African countries to build capacity on AfCFTA implementation on a needs basis, adding the WTO has spent about three million Swiss Francs trying to help countries in terms of capacity building on AfCFTA.

Okonjo-Iweala stated, “What we have tried to do from the WTO is to help build capacity of various countries to implement the agreement. So, some of them have approached us and we are working with them through the African Union (AU).

“As we speak, we have spent about three million Swiss Francs trying to help countries build capacity, upon request. Sometimes, to negotiate the end of those protocols, we worked with some of them.

“Then, implementing them is another thing.

“So, that is what we have been doing and we would like to see this thing work, because it would make a huge difference and make Africa one market of 1.4 billion and give us the power of India or China. That says a lot.

“But we have a lot to do. We have the guided trade in eight countries now and we are waiting to see how it will work. We are ready at the WTO to continue supporting the AfCFTA.”

Earlier, Okonjo-Iweala said regarding issues in the global trading system, “We hear a lot of discussion on whether the multilateral trade system is still working or whether we are now in ‘slowbalisation’ or that globalisation is gone given the geopolitical tensions we face. Those questions are coming.

“People are also asking that governments are making so many regional and bilateral trade agreements, so is the multilateral trade agreements still alive and what is the WTO doing.

“People tend to take the multilateral trading system for granted. But you need to know that 75 per cent of world trade today takes place on WTO’s Most Favoured Nations Terms (MFNTs). Meaning that it is taking place on all the rules and commitments agreed with the WTO. So, three-quarter of world trade. That is why we are not so concerned, because the largest chunk of world trade is still taking place on WTO’s terms.”

Okonjo-Iweala explained, “Trade is not something you think of all the time, it just happens. Just remember that if we were to remove the WTO rules of today, there would be no agreements underpinning world trade and that would really result into anarchy.

“So, I think the multilateral trading system is still strong, it’s still growing and it underpins 75 per cent of world trade. The rest may be trade done under different agreements, be it bilaterally or regionally. But it is a small part of the trade that we are talking about here.”

Meanwhile, the government of Iceland said it would contribute CHF500, 000 to the WTO Fisheries Funding Mechanism to assist developing members and least-developed countries in implementing the Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies. Permanent Secretary of State at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Iceland, Martin Eyjólfsson, presented the contribution to Okonjo-Iweala yesterday.

Eyj√≥lfsson said, “I am very pleased to formalise Iceland’s donation of CHF 500,000 to the Fisheries Funding Mechanism today. Iceland is a global leader when it comes to sustainable fishing, and we have a long history of assisting countries in need of building sustainable fisheries management capabilities.

“We look forward to working closely with the Fund to secure a timely ratification and successful implementation of the Fisheries Subsidies Agreement.”

Okonjo-Iweala expressed gratitude to the government of Iceland for the financial contribution towards WTO’s Fisheries Funding Mechanism.

She said, “Iceland’s continuing support for the implementation of the Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies underscores the importance of collective action in preserving our oceans and promoting responsible fishing practices worldwide. I commend Iceland’s leadership in this critical endeavour.”

The new Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies would involve adjustments and enhancements to WTO members’ legislative and administrative frameworks, their transparency and notification obligations, and their fisheries management policies and practices.

Article 7 of the agreement provides for the creation of a funding mechanism to provide targeted technical assistance and capacity building to help developing and least-developed country members with implementation.

The fund is operated by the WTO with partner organisations, namely, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, and the World Bank Group, which bring to bear relevant expertise and allow the WTO to leverage its own expertise.

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