JONATHAN NDA – ISAIAH, KINGSLEY ALU, MARK ITSIBOR And INNOCENT ODOH, Abuja
Director-general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has urged Nigeria to look at ways to add value to its primary products and expand its ability to trade with other countries, especially within the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
She said the country also needs to improve on infrastructure to deliver trade to the global market.
The WTO DG spoke yesterday during her official visit to President Muhammadu Buhari and the ministers of Finance, budget and national planning, Zainab Ahmed; Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyema, and Industry, Trade and Investment, Adeniyi Adebayo.
Okonjo-Iweala said the visit was to start from home to appreciate and discuss what WTO can do to support Nigeria’s development and improve the country’s ability to trade.
“One of the objectives is to see how the WTO can help. The main advice we have is to look at how you can add value to our primary products and expand ability to trade especially withing Africa given the AfCFTA,” she during her meeting with the Finance minister.
Nigeria, one of the biggest producers of Sesame seeds and Shea nuts in the world, had been barred from the market of Europe and the United States as a result of quality issues.
With a share in world trade of 0.33 per cent, and 19 per cent Africa trade, the country is 103 out 167 counties in logistics, a situation that suggests the country with the largest African economy has a long way to go.
Okonjo-Iwaela said Nigeria needs to invest in its already diversified economy by tapping into the huge potentials of economic growth in the service sector.
She stated: “We have a diversified economy that can carry us if we invest in it. Not just in goods, not just in agriculture but actually in services. We have our young people who are doing a phenomenal job in technology – from fintech to act; this is the wave of the future. And e-commerce is now becoming very important with the pandemic. We need to encourage that.
“There is a very fast move to renewable energy. The world is moving in the direction of renewable energy. And we need to think carefully as a country of how we are going to join this movement because we are a fossil fuel-based economy. The DG said she is in support of the minister’s call for a transition to gas, saying Nigeria needs a transition period in other to fuel her economy and put it on better footing.”
The WTO boss said Nigeria stands to benefit by encouraging and pushing more trade, becoming a bigger part of the multilateral trading system, and to do that, the country has to produce more, add value to its products and export more.
She said WTO will support Nigeria with capacity building and technical assistance to improve the quality of the products that are exported from Nigeria.
“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.” she added.
Okonjo-Iweala told the minister of Foreign Affairs that the WTO was going to work with other organisations that have access to more finance such as the World Bank, the AfDB, the Asia Investment and Infrastructure Bank (AIIB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to help Nigeria solve some of the deficits in respect to infrastructure and other areas as well as the regulatory framework for some of the trade areas in order strengthen Nigeria for bigger and larger trade particularly in the African continent.
Receiving the WTO’s DG at the presidential villa yesterday, President Buhari told her that despite the robust support Nigeria gave to her candidacy for the position, she “also earned it.
“We are happy you made it, but you earned it with your record of performance both at home and abroad,” a statement by his presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina, quoted the president as saying.
President Buhari lauded Nigerian women, pointing to key positions they hold like minister of finance, Budget and National Planning, Head of Civil Service of the Federation, and many others.
He said in the same way, government would encourage the youths, “so that they can be ready for the challenges of the future.”
In her response, the minister of Finance urged Okonjo-Iweala to stand as one of the advocates for transition energy, which she said is very important for developing countries.
“We want you to support us and we have this on the agenda in COP 26; to campaign for gas to be classified as transition energy; even if it’s for a limited period of 20 years. It will be useful to us. We also want the WTO to look at how Nigeria can be supported in developing the Nigerian bio-economic resources to help us transit to cleaner fuel,” Ahmed said
The minister demanded for support from WTO to facilitate trade and also to support Nigeria within the region under the AfCFTA to enhance the country’s ease of doing business.
She said the country needs to strengthen manufacturing and transit her economy into an industrialised nation.
“And we can only do that by strengthening manufacturing. We need to get women involved in every facet of the development of the Nigerian economy. We want to ask the WTO to support Nigeria in its economic policies that will drive economic inclusiveness, especially giving attention to women contributions,” she stated.
On his part, minister of Indursty, Trade and Investment congratulated Okonjo-Iweala on her appointment as the director-general, WTO and hinted the DG on some of the country’s expectations regarding engagements in ongoing negotiations and discussions.
“On the ongoing agriculture negotiation Nigeria expects a balanced and equitable outcome that addresses structural causes of food and livelihood insecurity in Net Food Importing Developing Countries NFIDC and Least Developed Countries LDC. “On the Fishery Subsidy Negotiations, we look forward to outcomes that result in reduction in overfishing and unsustainable fishing practices with effective differential treatment that allows a sustainable development of developing countries,” Adebayo said.
The minister of state for Industry, Trade and Investment, Amb Maryam Katagum, urged the DG WTO not to forget the commitment to sustain and enhance the ongoing dialogue and action on ‘women in trade’, as a firm believer in the power of trade to lift developing countries, including Nigeria, out of poverty.