Nigeria: Import Restrictions On Food Will Worsen Inflationary Pressures – Okonjo-Iweala

The Director-General, World Trade Organisation (WTO), Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala yesterday cautioned member countries of the organisation including Nigeria against implementing trade import and export restrictions that could further compound existing inflationary pressures.

The WTO DG said the apex global trade regulatory body had asked members to respect some of its rules on export restrictions and prohibitions and make them transparent adding that, “even if you have them, they have to be for a very limited duration”.

According to her, trade restrictions “cause food prices to rise even higher when countries restrict the importation of food, fertilizer or improved seeds”.

Okonjo-Iweala spoke when she paid a courtesy visit to the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment as a follow-up to the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference (MC 12) which took place recently in Geneva, Switzerland.

She said though the organisation is not an agency that finances agriculture, “but we try to make sure our members don’t add to the problem by allowing the free flow of trade in food and agricultural products, adding that, “that’s part of what we are able to do at this ministerial to get members to agree to limit that impact.”

This was just as the former minister of finance and coordinating minister of the economy also urged the federal government to expedite action on depositing the Instrument of Acceptance on the fisheries agreements which were negotiated at the MC 12 in which the Nigerian delegation headed by the Minister of State for Industry, Trade and Investment, Mrs. Maryam Katagum, participated actively to press for reforms in the fisheries sector.

Okonjo-Iweala said following the agreements reached by member countries in the areas of fisheries, at the Geneva meeting, Nigeria would need to ensure the deposit of its Instrument of Acceptance, particularly the legal framework leading to acceptance.

She said the deals required two-thirds of member countries to deposit their instruments of acceptance for the agreement to come into effect.

She said, “It needs not to take time and that is what I am here to urge that this be done quickly and we are trying to urge all the countries to do it because we need two-thirds of countries to deposit their instruments of acceptance for the agreement to come into effect.

“If it (new fisheries agreement) comes into effect, it means that when you catch people doing unreported and unregulated fishing, they can be held accountable.

“WTO has a dispute settlement system and that’s what many members don’t want to be brought there for not obeying the rules. So that’s deterrence and it’s only one of its kinds that exist in the world.

“We are trying to reform it but it is in existence – and countries don’t want to be brought there by other countries.

“From what I understand, the work and thinking on how to deposit the instrument have already begun and so I am very happy about that.”

She said she was absolutely proud of the performance of the Nigerian delegation who took an active role even though it was a difficult session negotiating the agreements with other members.

Okonjo-Iweala said the fisheries subsidies agreement was particularly exciting to Nigeria and the world at large because “for 21 years, the WTO has tried to negotiate this agreement among all the ministers in the world and it hasn’t happened. We were able to pull it through – thanks be to God for that”.

She said the “agreement tries to stop something that is harmful to the sustainability to the world’s fisheries which are harmful subsidies that allow nations to over-fish the oceans of the world. So overfishing, illegal fishing and unreported fishing – we know it takes place on our waters.

“This is a very big problem for the world because 260 million people worldwide depend directly on fisheries; 12 million people in Africa and if we don’t stop these harmful subsidies, that means fisheries would be depleted.”

The WTO DG said in 1970, seven per cent of fish stocks were overfished, a figure which rose to about 35 per cent by 2015. She said the world is almost at 50 per cent of its fishing stock currently.

She said the trend was mostly in developing countries that lacked the capacity to monitor the happenings adding that the agreement seeks to curb the subsidies that allows this to take place.

Katagum, however, commend the DG WTO for her leadership and tenacity that led to the positive outcomes at the recently concluded MC12, adding that the outcomes had been rightly described as unprecedented – and attested to the visionary leadership provided by Okonjo-Iweala in her capacity as the DG.

The minister said, “Nigeria welcomes the outcomes of the MC12 and notes the great progress that the MC12 made. We note, however, that we must not rest on our oars but should take this success recorded at the MC12 as a sign that with the right leadership, a lot can be done and we must build on this momentum to make progress in all other outstanding areas of work at the WTO.”

Katagum said, on return from Geneva, she immediately notified President Muhammadu Buhari about the outcomes of the meeting adding that “we are in the process of preparing a Council Note to inform the Federal Executive Council (FEC) of the outcome and the steps that need to be taken to ensure timely and effective implementation of these outcomes.”

She explained that among the raft of decisions reached, the ministry, in collaboration with relevant stakeholders, has met to specifically consider the agreement on fisheries subsidies and deliberated on how Nigeria can implement the agreement while also taking advantage of the opportunities presented by the newly created WTO Fish Fund.

Essentially, the minister said the Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies sets new global rules to curb harmful subsidies and protect global fish stocks in a manner that also recognizes the needs of fishers in developing and least-developed countries (LDCs). Among its key features is the sustainability of the environment, which is a first for WTO agreements.

She noted that technical assistance and capacity-building needs are essential for Nigeria to implement the disciplines in the agreement while also enhancing environmental sustainability which is the core of the agreement.

She said, “The Agreement is a great milestone because it enhances food security and increases the source of livelihood particularly, for lower-income families in rural and coastal areas. Nigeria will take all the necessary steps for the acceptance of the protocol and depositing the instrument of ratification.

Katagum also said Nigeria would also engage constructively with the Membership towards extending the MC 12 decision on the TRIPS Agreement to cover the production and supply of COVID-19 diagnostics and therapeutics as envisaged under paragraph 8 of the decision.

Among other things, she said, “We will also be playing a constructive role in the negotiations on Fisheries Subsidies, especially with regards to the outstanding issues of forms of fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing. This is to ensure that we adopt comprehensive disciplines on Fisheries Subsidies before the four years envisaged in the decision.”

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