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African Trade Unions urges new WTO DG Dr Okonjo-Iweala to ensure global trade agreements promote workers’ rights

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Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Board Chair, Gavi the Vaccine Alliance, AU Special Envoy to Mobilize International Economic Support for the Fight Against COVID-19, Former Finance Minister, Nigeria|Source: Graça Machel Trust

…Condemn military coup and demands release of political detainees

By Audrey Lotchukwu

WED 17 FEB, 2021-theGBJournal- African trade unionists have tasked the new Director-General of World Trade Organisation (WTO), Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to ensure that global trade agreements promote workers’ rights, eradicate poverty and guarantee sustainable industrial development in the world.

The appointment of Dr Okonjo Iweala, the first female African Director General was agreed on 15 February 2021  by the General Council of WTO. She formally takes office on 1 March as the first woman and the first African to be chosen as Director-General.

In a congratulatory statement signed by Comrade Issa Aremu Vice President IndustriALL Global  Union Africa and Comrade Joseph Montisetse of South Africa’s National Union of Mine Workers (NUM), co- chairman, the African council of the global union said given her impeccable credentials as finance and foreign Minister and record performance at the World Bank, Dr Ngozi’s appointment was earned and deserved, beyond gender.

The continental workers’ movement said it was time for what it calls “alternative trade policies that must take into account the needs of working people around the world, inclusive of economic growth and sustainable development.”

IndustriAll Global Union advised that the seventh Director General must be guided by the history of WTO in Africa which it says has “in many respects fostered de-Industrialization and job losses” through “uncritical wholesale dismantling of protection for domestic industries.”

The unionists noted that the emergence of Dr Ngozi is “significant” because it comes at a time when the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) involving 54 African countries with a combined population of more than 1bn people and combined gross domestic product of more than US$3.4 trillion had become a reality.

The  global union added that WTO under the leadership of an African must make a difference by ensuring that trade serves the purpose of wider growth, as well as advance  industrialization and create mass jobs  on the basis of respect for workers and their rights.

WTO, it says must partner with International Labour Organization ( ILO), ensure the dismantling of institutional constraints against workers  exercising their fundamental right to freedom of association and collective bargaining in member countries of WTO. The organized labour  observed that “trade facilitation must go hand in hand with workers’ rights to form free trade unions to represent labour, to collectively bargain on wages and working conditions”.

Meanwhile, the African council of the global IndustriAll Union has called on the military regime in Myanmar to immediately step down and respect the election results of last year, where NLD won a crushing majority over the military-led Union Solidarity and Development Party’s (USDP).

The union while strongly condemned the coup d’etat by the military in Myanmar and the detention of democratically elected leaders of National League for Democracy (NLD) Win Myint and Aung San Suu Kyi, demanded for the immediate unconditional release of all detained pro-democracy citizens of Myanmar. It says that after 50 years of military regime, “it was time to build sustainable democracy in Myanmar.”

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