WTO female head, reformer from Africa

Ngozi Okonyo-Iweara: Born in Nigeria in 1954, he received higher education in the United States and received a doctorate degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Served as Minister of Finance and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Nigeria. He has worked in the World Bank for a long time, from official to executive vice president. On February 15, 2021, he was appointed Director-General of the World Trade Organization.

The World Trade Organization (WTO), headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, has a new director-general dressed in traditional African prints. On February 15, Geneva time, 164 members of the WTO reached an agreement and agreed to the appointment of Nigerian economist and former Minister of Finance Ngozi Okonyo-Iweala as the Director-General. The term of office will begin on March 1.

As a development economist with a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States, Iweala worked at the World Bank for 25 years, served as the Minister of Finance of Nigeria twice, and also served as Minister of Foreign Affairs of Nigeria. In front of the public, she always maintains a confident smile, wearing colorful African traditional costumes, wearing the same colored headscarf, and necklaces and earrings that echo the colors. In the more than 30 years of political career in Iveara, she is known for her determination to reform and good at negotiation, which are exactly the qualities that the current “head of the World Trade Organization” needs.

At the special meeting of the WTO General Council held on February 15th, representatives of more than 80 WTO members spoke in succession to express their “warm support” for Iweala. Li Chenggang, China’s permanent representative to the WTO, said that this decision demonstrates trust in the multilateral trading system. The head of the World Trade Department of the Ministry of Commerce of China said: “Iweala is the first WTO Director-General from the African continent and the first female Director-General. It is well received.” Because of her, the world’s impression of Nigeria is no longer just “oil” and ” desert”.

Finally received unanimous approval

In April 2007, former UN Secretary-General Annan (front left) and Iweara (front right) met in Geneva to discuss issues related to the “African Leadership Achievement Award”.

On March 5, 2015, Iweala (middle), the then Minister of Finance of Nigeria, attended the groundbreaking ceremony of a local school.

In May 2020, Roberto Azevedo from Brazil, then Director-General of the World Trade Organization, announced that he would leave early on August 31 of that year. At that time, he said that he did this not for health reasons, nor for seeking “political opportunities,” but for “personal and family decisions” and said that “this decision is in the best interests of this organization.” He also told his successor that the global economy is changing rapidly. It is a major challenge to ensure the free flow of global trade, ensure the stability and predictability of the global trade environment, and promote the rapid recovery of global economic and trade.

The selection process for the new Director-General was launched in June of that year. After two rounds of consultations, Iweala from Nigeria and Yu Mingxi from South Korea became the candidates for the final “dialogue”.

Although the vast majority of WTO members support Iweala’s succession, the United States opposes it. Trump administration officials criticized her for lack of trade experience and ability. Iweala said at the time that the WTO does need to choose people who understand trade, but it is completely groundless to think that the Minister of Finance does not understand trade. The issue of trade “has been within my purview.” In fact, she is indeed a master negotiator. As early as 2012, she represented Nigeria in difficult negotiations with the “Paris Club”, an international debt negotiation and handling organization, and cancelled US$30 billion (1 US dollar equals 6.5 yuan) of debt for Nigeria.

Some experts analyzed that the United States opposed Iweala’s succession and supported Yu Mingxi from the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy of South Korea. Part of the reason was that the United States and South Korea had a tacit understanding and easy communication, while the African group represented by Iweala was huge and difficult to control. According to regulations, the appointment of the WTO Director-General must be unanimously approved by member states. Because the United States is “against the real name” and all the variables have increased dramatically, the post of director general has been represented by four deputy director generals.

After Biden took office, people hoped that the new US administration could break the deadlock over the unresolved candidate for the WTO Secretary-General. Some American economists wrote to the Biden administration expressing their support for Iweala. On February 5, 2021, the Biden administration announced its support for Iweala, removing the obstacles set by the previous administration. The Office of the United States Trade Representative issued a statement saying: “The Biden administration looks forward to working with a new WTO Director-General to find a way forward for realizing the necessary substantive and procedural reforms of the WTO.”

The “student hegemon” of African powers

Iveara has appeared on the cover of Forbes magazine.

Iweala was once included in the “Forbes” magazine “World’s 100 Most Influential Women” list. She wins people’s trust with her self-confidence and tenacity. The formation of these valuable qualities has nothing to do with her family full of cultural heritage.

In 1954, Iweala was born in a small city in the Nigerian Delta. Nigeria is located in the southeastern part of West Africa, bordering Benin to the west, Niger to the north, Chad to the northeast, Cameroon to the southeast, and the Gulf of Guinea to the south. With a population of more than 200 million, Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa and the largest economy in Africa. Iweala’s father is Dr. Ngozi, the former Minister of Finance of Nigeria. Under the influence of her father, she has been unparalleled in her studies-graduated from Harvard University with a bachelor’s degree, and then received a doctorate in regional economics and development studies from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She also received honorary degrees from 14 universities around the world, including the University of Pennsylvania, Yale University, Amherst College.

Iweala’s husband is a neurosurgeon, Dr. Aikenba Iweila. The two have four sons, two of them are Harvard doctoral students, one is a graduate student at Columbia University, and the other is an undergraduate at Harvard University.

However, Iveara’s life is not smooth. She grew up farming in the countryside with her grandmother and learned to cook, collect firewood and do housework when she was 9 years old. Part of her childhood was spent in the shadow of British colonialism. Later she experienced the Nigerian Civil War. She went to work with her mother. Sometimes she had to sleep in the mud and could not eat meat for several years. She did not get the chance to go to school until the last year of the war. .

During the civil war, Iveara’s 3-year-old sister got malaria and was in an emergency. She walked 10 kilometers with her sister on her back to a clinic attached to a church, only to find that there was a long line of people coming to see the doctor. She was not frightened, and instead crawled under people’s feet with her sister on her back, and finally climbed up the window and squeezed into the clinic. The doctor gave her sister an injection of chloroquine, which saved her sister’s life.

In April 2014, Iweala and her husband attended the celebration of “Time” magazine’s most influential people.

These experiences have allowed Iweala to develop a tough and courageous personality, and also cultivate her strong sense of justice. In her more than 30 years of political career, these characteristics have remained the same. In the eyes of those who have worked with him, “Iveara always has a full schedule, the kind of person who appears before the plane takes off in 5 minutes.” Moreover, although she worked long hours and spared no effort in doing things, she was always calm and composed, and never panicked.

Iweala once spoke for women and youth through the “Nigeria Girls and Women’s Growth Plan”, emphasizing “women’s equal rights”. She is actively improving Nigeria’s gender equality budget system, allowing more and more Nigerian girls to receive equal social resources. She also fully supports the award-winning youth enterprise innovation program, helping various companies create a large number of jobs.

These measures to benefit the people have made her the most famous and respected female politician in Nigeria.

Write a book to tell the story of reform and anti-corruption
In 1981, Iweala joined the World Bank and worked for 25 years. He was promoted all the way to executive vice president. During her tenure as Director of the Bureau of Institutional Change and Strategy of the World Bank, she worked hard to promote the implementation of the World Bank’s reform agenda. From 2008 to 2009, the world suffered both an economic crisis and a food crisis, and poor countries suffered severe famines. Iweala proposed a number of plans to assist low-income countries. In 2010, she led the World Bank to raise US$49.3 billion in grants and low-interest credit for the poorest countries in the world.

Iweala has served as Nigeria’s Minister of Finance twice. He is known for his outspokenness and courage, and has the nickname “Troubled Woman”. In office, she tried to curb corruption by reforming the fiscal system, introducing advanced information technology management systems, and increasing transparency in fiscal operations. In 2003, she issued fiscal regulations based on oil prices, which reduced Nigeria’s economic volatility. In 2011, she established the Nigerian Mortgage Refinancing Company, which strengthened the Nigerian public financial system. She also published in the newspaper the information on the monthly federal government’s financial appropriations to state and local governments, allowing government finances to be subject to public supervision. These reforms can be called the “big killer” for the stability of Nigeria’s economy, and they have also helped Nigeria become the No. 1 GDP in Africa.

Iweala attaches great importance to his role as an “anti-corruption fighter”. She once wrote the book “Going Forward-My Anti-Corruption Story”, describing how various interest groups openly exploited and created system loopholes in Nigeria, a multi-ethnic country with Western-style democracy, centered on oil subsidies, budget allocation, and pensions. Security, customs taxation and other clever plundering, corruption like cancer erodes national interests and government credibility. She talked about the effectiveness of a series of anti-corruption measures she launched, as well as the kidnapping, life threatened, and reputation stigmatization of her mother because of anti-corruption. challenge.

The first chapter of this book tells about the kidnapping of Iveara’s mother in 2012. On December 9, 2012, 10 unidentified armed men shared multiple cars and entered the community where Iveara’s mother Kemenna lived in Oguahiuku City, and rushed into the 82-year-old man’s residence. Take it into a Volkswagen “Golf” car and leave quickly. The Governor of Delta issued a time-limited order to solve the case to the police, demanding that the suspect be found and rescued within 24 hours at any cost. On the evening of December 13, the old man was released by the kidnappers and returned home. On the same day, the Nigerian military disclosed that the military had arrested 63 suspects to rescue the elderly. According to analysis, the reason for the kidnapping may be that Iweala continues to promote reforms in the oil and gas sector and insists on canceling the fuel subsidy policy, which threatens the core interests of vested interest groups in the oil revenue chain; in addition, Kemenna is involved in local political affairs. It may also offend relevant political interest groups.

Iweala, who has been in the forefront of reform, agrees with the evaluation of “reformer”. “Look at my qualifications and career, you will find that I have both leadership and the ability to carry out reforms. I have experience in advancing reforms, whether it is in the 25 years of the World Bank or the longest serving as a Nigerian When I was the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Economic Coordination, and the first female foreign minister, I was known for pushing forward reforms.

Nowadays, the world free trade is facing more and more challenges, and the WTO urgently needs a pioneer in reform. Iweala also used “reform” as his strongest weapon during the campaign. She said: “At present, the WTO needs a reformer with a new perspective, a leader who is not afraid to make the necessary decisions. If you pick those who do business as usual, you will not be able to push the organization forward.”

Two major tasks after taking office
When Iweala took office, the spread of the new crown pneumonia epidemic had not yet eased, and the multilateral trading system was facing major challenges. How to promote the WTO’s return to normal functions as soon as possible, promote the WTO to play a greater role in anti-epidemic cooperation and economic recovery, and advance the necessary reforms of the WTO to maintain and enhance the authority and effectiveness of the multilateral trading system. The first task before Veala.

After Iveala took office, the top priority is to ensure the free flow of vaccines, medicines and medical supplies to help deal with the epidemic and promote global economic recovery. In her view, although the WTO agreement on patents is conducive to the fair distribution of vaccines, this institution has not yet played a substantial role in responding to the new crown pneumonia epidemic. She also criticized some WTO members for restricting the export of medical equipment, medicines and basic food during the epidemic, and advocated the use of trade rules for the fair distribution of new crown pneumonia vaccines. She said that on the one hand, it is necessary to give play to the WTO’s supervisory function on member trade policies and encourage members to cancel relevant trade restrictions to increase the freedom of cross-border movement of anti-epidemic materials; on the other hand, encourage all parties to Under the framework of the “Intellectual Property Agreement”, the global production license of the new crown vaccine will be expanded to allow more poor countries to obtain the vaccine as soon as possible.

On July 15, 2020, Iweala (middle) answered questions from reporters after attending a hearing of 164 representatives of the World Trade Organization in Geneva.

Another thing Iveara wants to grasp is to reform the WTO dispute settlement mechanism. Multilateral trade negotiations, dispute settlement, and trade policy supervision are known as the three pillars of the WTO. However, in recent years, with the rise of trade protectionism, it has become more common to bypass the WTO for bilateral trade negotiations. This institution was established in 1995 to ensure that trade proceeds as smoothly and freely as possible, and its effectiveness as a world trade arbitrator is facing severe challenges.

Iweala said that if the world’s only multilateral platform for resolving trade disputes fails to function, then it will be meaningless for members to formulate more rules. The good news now is that all members agree to reform the dispute settlement mechanism, but they have different opinions on how to reform. She will understand the demands of all parties on the reform content, make the reform plan specific and systematic, and hope to bring the plan to the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference. Iveala also said that it is very important to work hard to modernize multilateral trade rules, especially the completion of negotiations in the field of e-commerce. During the epidemic prevention and control period, the digital economy is advancing by leaps and bounds, and the scale of e-commerce will continue to rise rapidly in the future, but the WTO currently has no rules concerning e-commerce.

These propositions are attractive to global companies, including U.S. companies. The US media said that the business community is paying attention to the negotiation of digital trade rules, including e-commerce, after the collapse of the dispute settlement mechanism has frustrated the industry. Briliant, executive vice president of the American Chamber of Commerce, issued a statement saying: “American companies rely on (WTO) rules every day. We need to restore the status of the WTO to make it a place for meaningful trade negotiations and settlement of commercial disputes