Nigeria: Okonjo-Iweala - the Cap Fits

14 October 2020

The race for the successor to the outgoing Director General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Roberto Azevêdo, is reaching its climax as October ending looms in the horizon. The selection process has pruned the candidates from eight to two with Nigeria's Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala looking set to clinch the much coveted job at the expense of her main rival, South Korean Ms Yoo Myung-hee.

The World Trade Organization (WTO) is an intergovernmental organization that is concerned with the regulation of international trade between nations. It officially commenced in 1995 under the Marrakesh Agreement, signed by 123 nations on April 15 1994, replacing the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). It is the largest international economic organization in the world.

The WTO deals with regulation of trade in goods, services and intellectual property between participating countries by providing a framework for negotiating trade agreements and a dispute resolution process aimed at enforcing participants' adherence to its agreements, which are signed by representatives of member governments and ratified by their parliaments. The WTO prohibits discrimination between trading partners, but provides exceptions for environmental protection, national security, and other important goals. Trade-related disputes are resolved by independent judges at the WTO through a dispute resolution process.

Okonjo-Iweala, a renowned development economist, is a versatile player on the international scene and had set a record for herself at the Bretton Woods' institutions of World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). During her 25-year career at the World Bank, she rose to the number two position of Managing Director with oversight responsibility for the Bank's $81 billion operational portfolio in Africa, South Asia, Europe and Central Asia. She used that opportunity to spearhead several World Bank initiatives to assist low-income countries during the 2008 - 2009 food crisis, and later during the financial crisis in 2010. This may, in a way, explain the ease with which she was accepted as the one who could possibly steer the affairs of the Geneva, Switzerland- based world body in the right direction for the next five years.

President Muhammadu Buhari in deciding to present her as Nigeria's nominee for the soon- to- be vacant position, needed someone who the cap fits and who will require no introduction to the international community. He desired a candidate conversant with the nuances of economic negotiations, the political intricacies of dealing with countries and their diverse interests and peculiarities. And, even more importantly, the diplomatic dexterity that will certainly come into play in dealings with nations and the necessity of saying ugly things nicely.

As if to prepare herself for the international career she has chosen, Okonjo-Iweala had what is clearly an Ivy League education. From the prestigious Queen's School, Enugu, St. Anne's School, Molete, Ibadan, and the International School Ibadan, she laid a foundation of hard work that took her to study at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States of America, two of the best in the world where she was groomed on Regional and Development Economics.

Okonjo-Iweala served twice as Nigeria's Finance Minister and also as Minister of Foreign Affairs. She was the first female to hold both positions in Nigeria. During her first term as Minister of Finance under President Olusegun Obasanjo's Administration, she spearheaded negotiations with the Paris Club that led to the wiping off of US$30 billion of Nigeria's debt, including the outright cancellation of US$18 billion. In 2003, she led efforts to improve Nigeria's macroeconomic management including the implementation of an oil-price based fiscal rule where revenues accruing above a reference benchmark oil price were saved in a special account, "The Excess Crude Account" which helped to reduce macroeconomic volatility.

She was Chair of the International Development Agency (IDA) replenishment, the World Bank's successful drive to raise $49.3 billion in grants and low interest credit for the poorest countries in the world. During her time at the World Bank, she was also a member of the Commission on Effective Development Cooperation with Africa.

Okonjo-Iweala is co-Chair of the Global Commission for the Economy and Climate. Previously, she served as the co-Chair of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation; Chair-elect of the Board of Gavi of the World Health Organization (WHO), member of the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity (2015-2016), the World Economic Forum Young Global Leaders Foundation; the United Nations' Secretary General's High-Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda (2012-2013); and the renowned Growth Commission (2006-2009), led by Nobel Prize winner Professor Michael Spence.

Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was born in Ogwashi-Ukwu, Delta State, Nigeria and is married with children.

Tags: World Trade Organisation (WTO)

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