By Phillip Isakpa
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s two-time minister of finance and the country’s candidate for the top job of director general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), received further global endorsement of her candidacy on Monday from non-governmental organisations, philanthropists and business leaders, including Mo Ibrahim, founder and chairman of Mo Ibrahim Foundation; Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland; Kevin Watkins, chief executive officer of Save the Children, United Kingdom; Bono, co-founder of The ONE Campaign; Aliko Dangote, founder and chief executive officer of Dangote Group; and Strive Masiyiwa, executive chairman and founder of Econet Group, among others.
In a joint open editorial written by them and published and circulated worldwide by Business A.M.’s global partners, Project Syndicate, they averred that given a number of developments in the world, as well as operating in an interdependent world, where an open multilateral trading system overseen by the WTO can benefit all countries, Okonjo-Iweala was well positioned for the job as director general of the WTO.
“Okonjo-Iweala is well placed to work with governments to build that system. The hallmark of her career has been an unwavering commitment to poverty reduction, marginalized people, and gender equity. Under her leadership, the WTO would be a force driving progress toward the SDGs,” they wrote.
They acknowledged the current state of the world, noting that the global trading system was under severe pressure, and thus requires international cooperation to strengthen a rules-based order, adding that more than at any other time, the world needs a WTO that will support economic recovery, defend multilateralism, rebuild trust and rise to the twenty-first-century challenges posed by poverty, inequality, climate change, and especially more immediately, the Covid-19 pandemic.
They said trade matters to ordinary people around the world, but that it was all too easy to lose sight as to why it does, adding that while aid plays a critical role in advancing human development, it was through trade and markets, from local to global, that people work their way out of poverty and countries create jobs, build prosperity, and seize business opportunities.
Trade offers a route, for the world’s poorest countries, to higher value-added production, they further wrote, adding that if international trade was managed effectively, and linked to strategies for inclusive growth, it can help realize the ambition of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to eradicate poverty and build shared prosperity. “With the world teetering on the brink of historic reversals of hard-won progress on reducing extreme poverty and malnutrition, combating child mortality, and extending educational opportunity, we need a trading system that works for the poor,” they stressed.
They acknowledged that none of the benefits of trade is automatic, but that it was for this reason that the WTO needed a director-general who is equipped to work across political divides, build bridges, and find practical solutions. “In short, it needs a leader who can work with governments, helping them rise above their differences to find common ground,” they stressed.
In emphatically pitching their tent for the candidacy of Okonjo-Iweala, they stated: “We write as representatives of non-government organizations, philanthropists, and business leaders united in our conviction that Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is uniquely well placed to lead the WTO into a critical new era.“
According to them, the Nigerian candidate is uniquely well placed to play that role. They articulated the qualities of Okonjo-Iweala that formed the basis for their endorsement of her candidacy as follows:
As a highly respected development economist, she has consistently highlighted the crucial role of trade in building a path to shared prosperity. Moreover, trade has figured prominently in her portfolio. During her 25 years at the World Bank, Okonjo-Iweala worked on economic policy, including the trade challenges facing developing countries in all regions. As Nigeria’s finance minister, and its first-ever coordinating minister of the economy, she oversaw the critical intersection of trade and investment with other productive sectors, and she participated in the reform of national and sub-regional trade.
Moreover, Okonjo-Iweala has a distinguished track record as an effective reformer. As Managing Director at the World Bank, she negotiated a wide range of development finance initiatives. In Nigeria, she led major financial reforms and championed transparency. Her deft handling of complex deals on debt relief demonstrated an ability to navigate a practical pathway to solutions.
Okonjo-Iweala has impressive credentials on health and the environment as well. She currently chairs Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, a public-private partnership that has saved millions of lives. In that role, she has been one of the architects of the path breaking COVAX facility, which has now attracted over $1.7 billion in support to ensure equitable and affordable access to vaccines for poorer countries. She also co-chairs the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate.
As a seasoned policymaker, Okonjo-Iweala has the skills and experience to engage governments and other stakeholders. All countries – rich and poor – stand to gain from an effectively managed trading system that puts shared interests first.
We believe in the WTO, and we want to see it led by a director-general who can galvanize action and deliver results not just for the most powerful economies, but also for the world’s poorest countries and the people who have been left behind. Okonjo-Iweala is the right candidate for the job.
Other international personalities that signed the op-ed commentary are: KY Amoako, founder and president, African Center for Economic Transformation; Nathalie Delapalme, CEO, Mo Ibrahim Foundation; Jamie Drummond, global strategist, GlobalGoals.org; Caroline Kende-Robb, former secretary-general, CARE International and executive director, Africa Progress Panel; Rachel Kyte, dean of The Fletcher School at Tufts University; Girish Menon, chief executive, ActionAid UK; Sanjay Pradhan, CEO, Open Government Partnership; Gayle Smith, CEO, The ONE Campaign; Justin van Fleet, president, Theirworld and executive director, Global Business Coalition for Education; Zouera Youssoufou, managing director and CEO, Aliko Dangote Foundation; and Tim Wainwright, chief executive, WaterAid.