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Why Africa deserves top global trade post

By Chris Diaz | October 1st 2020 at 19:26:25 GMT +0300

Sports CS Dr Amina Mohamed is among the contenders for the WTO top seat. [File, Standard]

Two landmark decisions will be made in early November. First one, American voters will be headed to the polls to elect their next president to 2024.

But of more prominence to the rest of the world is that the World Trade Organisation (WTO) will pick its next Director-General.

The process to fill in the vacant top global trade post has been running for months and already the list of candidates has narrowed from eight to five in the most recent.

Originally, the WTO Council was gearing up for its Ministerial Conference scheduled for later in 2021 until its sitting DG delivered a shocker.

In a virtual conference held in mid-May, Roberto Azevedo indicated he would step down before the close of his term in September next year, throwing the leadership of the global agency into disarray.

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While Azevedo did not give a deep-dive attribution to his sudden exit after seven years at the helm, but his departure will bring fresh global leadership with new strategies and perhaps growth in trade partnerships in these difficult times.

US-China trade war

The United States’ reversal has been on the back of a raging trade tiff with China with temperatures threatening to hit boiling point.

While the pair of States have indicated they remain engaged in negotiations to reach a deal to put out the fires, both parties have remained on the onslaught with the trade war seemingly remaining far from over.

In the most recent, the battle has seen US President Donald Trump threaten to put a blockade on the sensational social media application TikTok.

While labelling the application popular among teenagers as a threat to national security through its alleged exposure of personal data; Trump has enforced the sale of the application’s operations in the United States by the company’s mother company Bytedance.

The refusal to fill requisite positions to the WTO post by the US has been tied to the ongoing trade spat which has further caused investor agony over holding stakes in Chinese owned companies.

The WTO along with value chains such as the semiconductor industry, and fashion and apparels have been caught up in the tiff which has destabilized global trade.

According to WTO’s annual trade report covering 2019, global GDP growth declined to 2.3 from 2.9 per cent, partly from rising global trade tension.

The decline was the first recorded since the 2009 financial crisis a decade earlier. As such, the pair of countries have somewhat recused themselves from vying from the top WTO post as they instead engage in bilateral trade warfare.


Across the Atlantic, cooperation and homogeneity in trade has likewise failed to spark as the European Union (EU) continues to deal with the aftermath of Britain’s exit from the shared customs union.

While the UK has cemented its exit from the EU, the modalities of future trade between the pair remain pending ahead of a final deadline at the close of 2020.

Subsequently, the global trade environment remains largely chaotic as past leaders of cooperation become foes making foe a high volatile outlook.

However, cooperation in global trade still has the opportunity to thrive but under new leadership.

As he made his exit, the former WTO DG Roberto Azevedo warned the process to select his successor must not be business as usual as focus turns to real changes.

Time for Africa

For starters, Africa has never produced a Director-General for the WTO in its history warranting for better inclusion of the continent in matters world trade.

Further, African countries have been largely left out of the creation of the global trading system leaving the crucial region as a quasi WTO member.

Critiques have continued to lament the marginalization of the continent calling for its greater representation in global trade governance and rulemaking.

The Pan African Private Sector Trade & Investment Committee (PATRAC) recently termed Africa’s role in global trade as long and colourful but undervalued.

This is as the region’s contribution to global GDP shrinks over the years having stood at a mere 3 per cent last year against a higher four per cent at post-independence.

According to a survey by PATRAC that engaged 200 Chief Executives across the country, only four per cent of the top business leaders found the WTO as highly effective.

Moreover, 80 per cent of the CEOs noted difficulties in global trading while another 65 per cent indicated global trading was unfair to Africa.

As the World Trade Organisation gears for crucial reforming, Africa is based placed to ignite the overhaul based on its understanding of deficiencies of the multi-lateral trading system.

Additionally, Africa is among the few regions keeping their light on for global trade harmony. The Africa free trade continental area (AfCTA) is one such indicator which has seen the continent opt for collaboration on trade as the rest of the world struggles to stay put on cooperation.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

In its attempt to clinch the top world trade post, Africa has put forth candidates with more than enough qualities and pedigree to scoop the role.

One of the candidates in the race is Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iwaela who holds a 25-year career as the World Bank’s development economist.

Ngozi is a global finance expert who served Nigeria as its Finance Minister across two terms stretching between 2003 & 2006 and 2011.

In 2012, Ngozi became the first female candidate from Africa to contest for the Presidency of the World Bank Group.

Amina Mohammed

Kenya’s very own Amina Mohammed is the other candidate from the continent who already makes for an insider in the WTO. I have personally known Hon. Dr Amina as a great leader in both Foreign Affairs, Trade, global trade and highly experienced in growing the WTO business agenda, with strong relationships globally.

Her accolades in the past have put her in the ascendancy for the top post and seen her earn praise from the world over including a pat from the distinguished Bloomberg news agency.

In 2015, Dr Amina Mohamed became the first African ever to Chair WTO’s highest forum- the Ministerial Conference in Nairobi.

Between 2000 and 2006, Amina was Kenya’s permanent representative and ambassador to the WTO where she served on various capacity including heading the agency’s dispute settlement and trade policy review.

Dr Amina who is the current Sports and Culture Cabinet Secretary holds very senior appointments, and served as the Foreign Affairs and International Trade Minister between 2013 and 2018.

The global leadership in our view should preferably be a woman and from Africa. It is time for women and gender diversity in global leadership bring great inspiration and long term changes as the world is undergoing a recession and challenging times. Keep Safe and we look forward to crossing 2020 with lots of new changes and solutions in the new year - 2021.

-Chris Diaz is at Trustee Brand Africa and Director of East Africa Business council


WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala Amina Mohammed
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