Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s candidate in the election for a new director-general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), says there is a need to revive the organisation to meet the needs of its members.
In an opinion piece published by Project Syndicate, Okonjo-Iweala said the organisation has been unable to conclude a single trade-negotiation round of global trade talks since it was established in 1995.
She said some people regard the WTO as an ineffective policeman of an outdated rulebook which is not adaptable to the challenges of the 21st century.
“Whoever Azevêdo’s successor is will face a major challenge. Since its establishment in 1995, the WTO has failed to conclude a single trade-negotiation round of global trade talks, thus missing an opportunity to deliver mutual benefits for its members,” she said.
“The Doha Development Round, which began in November 2001, was supposed to be concluded by January 2005. Fifteen years later, WTO members are still debating whether the Doha process should continue. Some think it has been overtaken by events, while others want to pursue further negotiations.”
However, she said the WTO has not been a failure despite its challenges as it has built on the successes of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which was enacted in 1948.
“The rules-based multilateral trading system that began with GATT has contributed immensely to global economic growth over the last seven decades, by reducing average tariffs and steadily eliminating non-tariff barriers,” she said.
Okonjo-Iweala, who sits on the board of Twitter and chairs the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), said member countries recognise the need to revive the organisation in line with the realities of the 21st century.
“Developed countries believe that they have shouldered the burden of trade liberalization for far too long and that developing countries should shoulder more obligations if they are in a position to do so.
“Least-developed and low-income developing countries, meanwhile, say that WTO rules are hampering their efforts to grow and modernize their economies.
“A moribund WTO does not serve any country’s interest. An effective, rules-based international trade system is a public good, and failure to revive it will undermine governments’ efforts to pull the global economy out of the recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In a world economy already imperilled by COVID-19, we must now apply the antidote – members’ political will, determination, and flexibility – needed to revive it.”
Okonjo-Iweala, who was endorsed by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on Monday, is running alongside Mexico’s Jesús Seade Kuri and Abdulhameed Mamdouh, Egypt’s candidate.