WTO: LCCI Tasks Africa On Global Trade Opportunities Under Okonjo-Iweala

The Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) has urged African governments to shore up their capacity for international competitiveness to fully harness the opportunities offered by the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Dr Muda Yusuf, Director-General, LCCI, said this in a congratulatory message emailed to newsmen on Monday following Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s emergence as the Director-General of the WTO.

Nigeria’s former Minister of Finance whose appointment takes effect from March 1, 2021 made history as the first woman and first African to lead the WTO.

Yusuf said that Okonjo-Iweala’s emergence was at a time when the global trading system was faced with numerous challenges including supply chain disruptions precipitated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Other challenges, Yusuf added, were rising protectionism and unilateralism, growing economic nationalism, imposition of trade restrictions covering substantial amount of international trade, as well as trust and credibility concerns among members.

Yusuf said that Africa had peculiar challenges in the global trade arena with the continent deeply integrated into the global supply chain.

This, he said, underscored the low participation level of African economies in international trade.

“While the emergence of Dr Okonjo-Iweala as the new WTO Director-General is very gratifying and calls for celebration, there is a need to manage expectations around the outcomes for the Nigerian economy given the numerous productivity and competitiveness issues the country is grappling with.

“It is a great delight being the first female and first African to head the WTO since its formation in 1995 [replacing the General Agreements on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which commenced in 1948].

“According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, Africa’s trade with the global community between 2015 and 2017 stood at an average of $760.1 billion, compared with Asia ($6.8 trn), America ($5.1 trn) and Europe ($4.1trn).

“These numbers indicate that Africa is not a major player in global trade and Nigeria’s share in global trade is even more insignificant,” he said.

According to him, it is very pertinent for African economies to build capacity within the continent in order to take advantage of the opportunities in global trade.

“Nigeria’s export structure is still largely dependent on crude oil, which accounts for about 50 per cent of government revenue and 90 per cent of foreign exchange earnings.

“More importantly, Nigeria’s non-oil exports are largely primary commodities with little or zero value addition.

“Thus, the prospects of tapping international trade opportunities remains dim,” he added.

Yusuf said it was imperative to address trade facilitation issues especially around trade policies, port processes, international trade documentation and foreign exchange policies to fully take advantage of the opportunities offer by the WTO under its new DG.

He stressed the need to promote local value addition and backward integration to strengthen competitiveness of the nation’s domestic industries.

“We must undertake reforms of our tariff policy in accordance with the principles of comparative advantage, which would enable the country optimise opportunities in the global trade arena and enhance the citizens’ welfare.

“It is critical to develop an Africa Continental Free Trade Area strategy that would enable the country leverage trade opportunities both continentally and globally.

“There is a need to improve on our strategy in managing the coronavirus pandemic ranging from ensuring compliance to safety protocols to vaccine procurement and distribution.

“Ultimately, these are the factors that would determine the benefits that would accrue to the economy from global trade,”Yusuf said.