Director General of the World Trade Organisation, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, on Monday, listed conditions that could make Nigeria benefit from the global body.
She gave the conditions when she visited the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), at the Presidential villa.
These were contained in a statement titled ‘President Buhari to Okonjo-Iweala: We’re happy you made it; but you also earned it’ issued on Monday by the Media office of the President.
She apprised the President of the opportunities for Nigeria in the global organisation as well as the challenges.
Okonjo-Iweala was quoted to have said, “WTO will do more to help Nigeria, but we need to add value to our products in order to trade more. We should exploit all the opportunities in front of us.”
The new WTO boss commended Buhari for the pulsating support she received from the country in the race for the position.
She said, “You nominated me; you wrote hundreds of letters, called up hundreds of world leaders.
“Without your personal and direct intervention, it may not have worked. The people of Nigeria also supported me massively.
“The youths were wonderful, always encouraging, backing me up on social media.
“Mr President, the world recognises what you have done. Since its establishment, only men have led the WTO.
“Now, a woman has emerged for the first time, and she’s a Nigerian. We are so honoured.”
She added that the support and leadership of Buhari would help her a lot in her position as DG.
Okonjo-Iweala assumed office on March 1, 2021 as the first female DG of the WTO.
Buhari told Okonjo-Iweala, that despite the robust support Nigeria gave to her candidacy for the position, “You also earned it.”
He said, “We are happy you made it, but you earned it with your record of performance both at home and abroad.”
The president said Okonjo-Iweala was putting Nigeria more on the world map, “and I congratulate you, as well as the country. I know you will represent us so well.”
Buhari lauded Nigerian women once again, pointing to key positions they held.
At a meeting with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Geofrey Onyeama, Okonjo-Iweala stated Nigeria stood to benefit by producing and pushing for more trade.
She said, “Right now, Nigeria has 0.3 per cent of world trade and 19 per cent of Africa’s trade. You could see that as very small but you could also turn it around and see it as a big opportunity to make use of what has happened to the Africa Continental Free Trade.
“So, WTO will support Nigeria with capacity-building and technical assistance to improve the quality of the products that we export.
“We will work with entrepreneurs and producers to make that happen so that others can access other markets. Particularly, since we need to diversify away from oil and process agricultural products and this needs a lot of care. So, we hope to be able to provide that directly.”
Nigeria’s multiple exchange rates policy worries WTO, others
Answering questions from journalists after meeting with Buhari, Okonjo-Iweala said the WTO was concerned about Nigeria’s multiple exchange rates regime and how it would affect trade.
She said some member states had also complained about Nigeria’s invoking the balance of payment agreement to be able to conserve foreign exchange.
The Central Bank of Nigeria had in March 2020 said it would migrate to a single exchange rate for the naira by collapsing the multiple exchange rates policy that determined the value for the local currency.
When asked if the WTO was concerned about the multiple exchange rates regime in Nigeria, Okonjo-Iweala, said, “Yes, WTO has one of the agreements of balance of payments and Nigeria certainly invoked this to be able to conserve foreign exchange.
“But some other members have brought a complaint against us (Nigeria), that we shouldn’t have used this article in that way.
“So, yes, the WTO is concerned about foreign exchange; the way we manage it, the way we use it and how we use it to support manufacturing or imports and exports in our economy.
“I think that we had that discussion with them. They complained about the exchange rate regime and we (Nigeria) try to explain.
“I shouldn’t say ‘we’ because I’m now DG WTO; it is for Nigeria’s representative to explain to the WTO, to those members complaining why we’re doing this.
“Eventually, I think having a strong exchange rate and being able to phase out of this; I think we’ll be heading in that direction. We’re also going to see the governor of the central bank, and will undoubtedly discuss some of these issues.”
The former Nigerian Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, also allayed the fears that embracing the free trade policy of the WTO would harm Nigeria’s economic diversification drive.