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WTO Job: Okonjo-Iweala reveals how to resolve the rift between US and China

As the jostle for the top job at the World Trade Organization (WTO) becomes more intense, the Nigerian candidate, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has disclosed some of her plans for the institution. The former Nigerian Finance Minister recently had an exclusive interview with CNBC Africa.

Speaking during the interview, Mrs Iweala revealed how she hopes to resolve the rift between the United States of America and China, the 2 biggest economies in the world, especially as regards trade issues. She also noted that part of her vision is to build a trade institution where there is greater trust among its members. She also stressed that the WTO, at this critical time, is needed to ensure that trade and global markets remain open.

On healing the rift between the US and China, Okonjo-Iweala admitted that it is going to be challenging and not be easy. She said:

Well this is not going to be easy, if it was easy, it could have been done a long time since. So it would be very challenging but it is not an impossible job. It is very clear that both the US and China have been helped and benefitted from the multilateral trading system in the past. Hundreds of millions have been lifted out of poverty. They have experienced shared prosperity in the economies and their countries.’

The Nigerian candidate pointed out that it is important to remind the US and China of this shared prosperity. She then disclosed that she would listen to both countries to find out what really are the issues causing distrust among them. She said that she will not want to be involved in the larger political problems, but will rather separate the trade issues and focus on them and build this trust.

Going further on how to settle their rift, Okonjo-Iweala said, “You need to begin to find areas where there can be confidence-building and trade. Building trust is not talking about it, you have to have areas where both can work together and agree and we have a golden opportunity in the fisheries subsidies negotiations that are going on now because the US is a party to it, China is a party, the EU, all other members.’’

“It is a multilateral negotiation, so if they can sit around the table with others to negotiate this and have a successful outcome, that is one thing that will be shared in common between the 2. So that will begin to build confidence. Then reaching out both in the US and in China to talk to the policymakers, go where the decisions are made, talk to congress also in the US and begin to show the benefits of the system again.’’

She also said they will look at reasons why they need to work together because their rift may be causing negative externalities for other members. She is of the opinion that exposing all of these, working with them, and listening carefully will begin to build confidence.

She believes that while achieving this will be difficult, focusing seriously on trade issues can create room for a breakthrough.

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