'I'm a strong negotiator, reformer,' Okonjo-Iweala makes her case for 'challenging' WTO job

The seasoned economist says she intends to make sure that all parts of the world benefit if she wins the coveted position.

Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala says she can help the world trading system find common grounds as head of the World Trade Organisation [AFP]

The board chairperson of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, is one of many candidates seeking to replace Roberto Azevedo when he bows out as the organisation's director-general in August.

In an interview with the BBC's Business Daily this week, Okonjo-Iweala pointed at her over 30 years of experience negotiating important agreements between countries as one of the qualities that qualifies her for the job.

She touted the trade organisation as relevant for the world's economic development and growth, and for sharing of prosperity on a global scale.

"I want the job because I think I have the skills for it.

"I think that this organisation needs reforms to make it relevant for the times that we're in and make it fit for purpose.

"And I have a reputation as a strong reformer," she said.

Nigeria nominated Okonjo-Iweala for the job earlier in June, and the former minister will face stiff competition from other candidates from around the world including on the African continent.

No African has headed the organisation in its 25-year history, and the African Union (AU) is desperate to field a single African candidate for the DG position to boost the continent's chances.

Earlier this week, Benin Republic withdrew its nomination of Eloi Laourou to support Okonjo-Iweala's bid.

However, the former minister faces local competition from experienced senior WTO official, Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh, who was nominated by Egypt.

Okonjo-Iweala, who has a 25-year career at the World Bank as a development economist under her belt, told the BBC that it's 'extremely important' that the continent snaps up the coveted position to penetrate the world trading system.

"Africa has negotiated a monumental agreement - the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AFCTA) - to strengthen the economies of the continent, and enable them to trade better with each other, and face the trading system of the world together.

"I think that having an African at the WTO is something that will benefit not just Africa, but the intention I have is to make sure that all parts of the world benefit," she said.

Growing trade tensions between member countries, especially between the United States and China, has been noted to be a challenge that a new WTO chief will have to contend with, and Okonjo-Iweala relishes all kinds of challenges the job can throw her way.

The 66-year-old said she can serve as an objective bridge between member countries to help them find common grounds to stand on.

She said, "I strongly believe that this world we face today, we need a fora where we can bring common interests together.

"I think there's room to bring people together to build trust around shared interests."

She also expressed concern that the coronavirus pandemic has terribly affected African economies, and stressed that the international community must work together to ensure everyone emerges safely from the crisis.

She said, "The one thing that the coronavirus pandemic has shown is the inter-connectedness we have in the world.

"The inter-connectedness means that no one in the world is safe until everybody is safe. No country is safe until every country is safe.

"We're as strong as the weakest link when we're dealing with this pandemic."

She said the WTO must create a trading system that ensures every single country around the world has access to solutions.

When the nomination period for the top job closes on July 8, candidates will be invited to meet with members at a special General Council meeting to present their views, and take questions.

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