Director-General, World Trade Organisation (WTO), Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, was on ‘a thank you’ visit to Nigeria last week. She had robust sessions with government officials on untapped economic opportunities inherent in e-commerce, AfCFTA and women empowerment, ABDULWAHAB ISA reports
Two weeks into her resumption as World Trade Organisation’s Director-General, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala took a short break from her duty post at Geneva and headed to Nigeria, her country home. Her mission: To say thank you to the President, Muhammadu Buhari, his cabinet members, Nigerians – home and abroad; Africa continent and every person, who played a role to enhance her emergence for the top job.
The historic visit went beyond thank you and appreciation. It was an opportunity for the DG of the 159-member organisation to speak to her home government and, indeed, Africa continent the truth about economic opportunities available at the global scene, and what is needed to be done to tap into such mileage. The five-day official visit began at about noon on Saturday at the Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport, Abuja. She was received at the airport by government delegation led by the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Industry Trade and Investments, Dr. Nasiru Sani Gwarzo.
The former World Bank managing director and two time Nigeria’s finance minister laid out her mission schedule of engagements on arrival in a chat with the media. “I hope I would be able to discuss with his Excellency, the President, Muhammadu Buhari, the Chief of Staff, the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning; Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria; members of the organised private sector as well as micro medium and small enterprises. “Women entrepreneurs, I like to meet with women.
The whole objective is to see how the WTO can better assist Nigeria and Nigerian entrepreneurs with respect to improving the economy,” WTO DG said. Asked how WTO would assist Nigeria and Africa in general in the implementation of African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), she said WTO would explore ways to help Nigeria and Africa deepen the volume of trade in Africa continent. “What we are trying to do, indeed, is Nigeria’s share of trade in Africa; we hope to be able to use the African continent agreement to improve our trade, and to do that, we have to look at Investment.
“We have to add value to some of our products. This continental trade agreement is a unique opportunity for us to be able to engage commercially with the other nations in Africa. “That will boost our export. When you boost exports, you create more jobs. We are also going to talk about the digital economy, and how our young people are accessing the internet for e- commerce. Those are some of the issues, and what more can we do to support all of that to create more activities,” she said. Speaking on the visit, Gwarzo described the home coming as a great opportunity to say thank you to the whole world that supported Nigeria to achieve the giant feet.
At the Ministry of Industry Trade and Investments, the DG was received by the Minister, Otunba Niyi Adebayo. The meeting between the Minis-ter and the DG centered on opportunity for Nigeria to push her demand at the forthcoming 12th Ministerial Conference of the WTO in Geneva scheduled for December this year. Otunba Adebayo listed areas of interest to Nigeria. On agricultural negotiation, he said Nigeria expected balanced and equitable outcomes that address structural causes of food and livelihood insecurity in net food importing developing and least developed countries.
On fisheries subsidy negotiations, Nigeria, Adebayo said, looked forward to an outcome that would result in the reduction in overfishing and unsustainable fishing practices and differential treatments that allows for sustainable development of the agricultural sector of developing countries.
He drew the DG’s attention to the capacity challenges that undermines her effective participation in multilateral negotiation. Responding, the director-general said trade negotiations on agriculture issues were important to WTO. She said the body was also active in the joint statements on the ongoing unilateral negotiations where Nigeria is involved on issues of e-commerce, services on domestic regulations, investment facilitation, micro-medium and small enterprises as well as women in trade.
“They are very important for our economy. That is the main thing I want to talk about today, and the reason we are here. Nigeria’s share in world trade is 0.33 per cent. This is a very small fraction of what we could do. Our share in Africa trade is 15 per cent, a little bit higher and below our share of Africa GDP, which is almost a quarter of Africa’s GDP.
Calibrate economy from fossil oil
Nigeria is a mono economy, depending mainly on crude oil as her mainstay. The country is facing imminent economic isolation on her reliance on crude oil. Diversification, embracing ecommerce were Dr. Okonjo-Iweala talking points in her engagement with the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, and Central Bank Governor, Mr Godwin Emefiele, respectively at different sessions. At a meeting with the finance minister, the WTO DG harped on the imperative of Nigeria to quickly think outside crude oil and diversify her economy from fossil oil.
She said with European countries and other advanced nations setting dates to convert automobiles from fossil to electric cars, demand for crude oil powered cars is threatened. Both the DG and minister of finance agreed mutually to work on this aspect.
“There is a very fast move in renewable energy. In the area of transition to renewable energy, the world is moving in the direction of renewables, we have to advocate and migrate to other types of activities. Nigeria must think fast on how to join the movement and I support the minister in transiting from fossil foil but we must advocate and be willing to migrate.
“E-commerce is crucial especially with the pandemic and the WTO negotiates rules to make everyone access e-commerce. We hope to work with these international banks to improve world trade. We will work with the World bank, IMF, AFDB and Afreximbank,” she pledged.
“I just want to say that, WTO has remedies which can help us without banning things. We can be able to protect our industries against dumping and cheap imports if we use those remedies. I understand Nigeria is trying to establish a trade remedies authority and I want to strongly support that. “We can use those remedies as a tool to help our industries to grow. Like some of the issues I raised yesterday, we have complaints against us from the EU about the violation of the BOP agreement with respect to trying to protect the dairy industry and they feel that this is not the right instrument,” she said.
For Nigeria to attain her economic potential, Okonjo-Iweala said Africa nations must give women attention, empowerment and entrepreneurship development. She said women drive economic development in advanced nations, noting Nigeria must follow the step if she desires to achieve inclusive economic growth. This, she emphasised in her meeting with Executive Director of the Nigerian Export Promotion Council, Olusegun Awolowo. “Supporting trade for MSMEs, especially for women entrepreneurs, is meaningful. Trade and globalisation have made people very wealthy but it has left some people behind.
The income of some people in the Middle East has stagnated. The way that WTO can help is by trying to make rules. “We will help you connect to the international market, empowering women is good and smart economics. If women have equal opportunity and access to the global economy as men do, economic growth can increase by $28 trillion. “We will do our best at the WTO and International Trade Centre to partner with you more to make sure that the quality of what is being made is up to standards and we are not meeting obstacles. “We will help you connect better to regional markets.
The AfCFTA is a good opportunity that we can really think about. We are not yet there but we will help you from WTO to penetrate that market and take advantage,” she said. Earlier, Awolowo expressed optimism that with her vast experience, the WTO DG would assist Nigeria realise much of its untapped potential through deepening cooperation with other countries in international trade. “We have come to a defining moment for international trade, at NEPC, we developed the Zero oil plan which is promoting an export led development agenda for Nigeria.
We are actively engaged in strategic collaborations and formidable partnerships to achieve our goals,” he said. Awolowo said a clear area of focus for the council had been a drive to gain significant participation of women in non-oil exports, adding that this would help the country achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 5 on gender equality, which cuts across all sectors. He said the importance of women’s inclusion in trade could not be overemphasised.
The director-general’s home coming, is an ample, veritable opportunity for Nigeria and Africa continent to reset their economies with a view to tapping into immense opportunities the WTO window offers. Having African as head of the Geneva-based body at a crucial period of AFCTA agreement should be maximised to deepen inter trade experience in the continent.