Home Comments Dr Ngozi Okonjo Iweala: Trade and development In discourse

Dr Ngozi Okonjo Iweala: Trade and development In discourse

Comrade Issa Aremu

By Issa Aremu

FRI 19 MARCH, 2021-theGBJournal- “Nigeria’s share in world trade is 0.33 per cent.” “Nigeria’s share in Africa’s trade is 19 per cent,  below its share of Africa’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).” And that is official!  At every engagement in Abuja during the week, (the Ministry of Trade and Investment, Presidency and Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the first female African Director General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) opened her remarks with the unpleasant miserable statistics about Nigeria’s status in manufacturing Value Added ( MVA). 

Nigeria we were told currently “ranks 103 out of 167 counties in terms of logistics”. It was her first working visit since she came into office as the 7th Director-General, on the 1st  of March this year. 

Inadvertently the WTO DG  appreciatively changed the narrative of Nigeria from increasingly predictable boring hysterical headlines about serial schools kidnappings, banditries to sobering  underlying numbers  of economic underperformance and underdevelopment, the real  situation  which fuels anything but peace and stability.

Remarkably she commendably turned despair into hope when she pointed to the opportunities in the abysmal national disability of low global trade and poor value addition. “I like to look at the optimistic side, when I saw this (the numbers) I knew that there was potential for us to do much. And that is the message I want to convey to the country. This means we can turn it around,” she said. I agree with Dr Ngozi that certainly opportunity exists for Nigeria to return to production in place of imports and crass consumption.

President Buhari had while hosting her conveyed optimism that she would “represent us so well.” In fullest of time, I bear witness that she has started “representing” Nigeria and Africa “well” by naming the facts of underperformance with a view of hopefully taming the decline. At the height of the historic contest for the Presidency of WTO, I had imagined how Candidate Okonjo-Iweala must have felt as the only contestant for the head of World Trade organization from “a non- trading – dependent, Cargo/Container economy in which there is official preference for imports from tooth picks to Covid-19 Vaccines.

I have been in similar situation, of being appreciated but weightless on account of a national economic meltdown. IndustriALL Global Union of which your comradely is the Vice President representing Africa, has 50 million workers in 140 countries in the mining, energy and manufacturing sectors fighting for better working conditions and trade union rights around the world. It was founded on 19 June 2012, in Copenhagen, Denmark, following the merger of three former global union federations: International Metalworkers’ Federation (IMF), International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers’ Unions (ICEM) and International Textiles Garment and Leather Workers’ Federation (ITGLWF).

Following the massive closures of textile and garment factories and attendant job losses, the National Union of Textile and Garment workers (I represented) together with Nigeria’s affiliate Unions combined had few delegates compared to South African Unions who controlled  highest delegates and vote. 

Nonetheless, I emerged first as Executive Committee Member as well as Chairman of the Sub Saharan African Region from 2012 to 2016 before being elected Vice President at the 2nd World Congress in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in October 2016 largely due to the support of South Africa’s Unions who with huge manufacturing base have more industrial workers. President Muhammadu Buhari was on the point when he told Dr Ngozi that: “You also earned it. We are happy you made it.”

The point cannot be overstated that Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala truly “earned” it, notwithstanding the legitimate robust support the non- trading country gave her. If it were to be on the number of “0.33 per cent” of Nigeria’s share of global trade, Nigeria’s  Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala would not have been a preferred candidate compared to South Korea’s Yoo Myung-hee.

South Korea is a trading exporting economy. It is the world’s seventh largest exporter of goods. In 2019 trade represented almost 76,7% of its GDP. South Korea is a manufacturing country “exporting mainly electrical equipment (14.6% of total exports), vehicles (7.5%), petroleum oils (7.2%) and parts and accessories for vehicles (3.5%).” I agree with the new DG that the country’s low performance with respect to manufacturing “showed a small fraction of what Nigeria could do.” But we can even add that it shows a free fall from what Nigeria once did with remarkable success in immediate post independence era and right up to 80s thanks to national development plans that promoted industrial revolution.

There was once  a manufacturing Nigeria with value adding industrial estates producing manufactured goods for domestic markets and West African market. It was not by accident that Nigeria championed the formation of ECOWAS to promote economic integration, growth and development through regional trade at the time neo-liberal globalization of WTO and World Bank was not as fashionable.

Until the notorious structural Adjustment programme (SAP) aimed at paying dubious external debts, Nigeria was successfully building its own brand of market capitalist economy with almost full employment, value addition and beneficiation in the 60s and 70s. There was once a developmentalist Nigeria leading in textile production, oil refinery, tyre (remember Dunlop and Michelin) and shoes production (remember Bata!). Indeed the miserable trade and manufacturing numbers of today are fallouts of the past SAP policies.

Precisely because of the SAP legacy, most African countries have not reaped the benefits of the first industrial revolution yet we must live in a globalized world of digital and smart manufacturing and value addition. The promoted high sounding Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) had since run its full cycle in 2018. But basic targets were not met such as the promised 80 percent local refining capacity for petroleum products by 2017.      I can imagine how my friend, HE Mohammad Sanusi Barkindo, OPEC Secretary General feels to be from the only  oil producing country without a functioning refinery, in the knowledge that this country used to have four functioning refineries and had planned under Shagari aborted democratic government two refineries for exports in the 80s.

There is no doubt that we are already reaping the impact of Dr Ngozi‘s Presidency in terms of loud voice for value addition in Africa. I agree with her that “We have to get from a position of where we are exporting raw materials to a position where we are adding more value.” But the challenge raises the question of unrestrained trade liberalization for national development.

Certainly the new DG holds the conventional view that trade liberalization is necessary and has automatic positive impact for growth and development. Nigeria joined the WTO uncritically almost without consultation in the 90s under Abacha military dictatorship. The results were lowering of tariffs and removal of imports restrictions with attendant massive closures of labour intensive industries like textile. It’s time to question the notion that in WTO “all are gainers and there are no losers.”

Indeed Nigeria has been a loser of big- bang trade liberalization with worsening terms of trade and balance of payments. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, spoke for a new manufacturing Nigeria and indeed many of us when on Tuesday he defended the apex bank’s restrictive trade policy, stressing that it was meant to protect local industries from unfavourable competition and to create jobs for Nigerians.

Obviously with the country’s high unemployment rate, it was inevitable to create job opportunities and provide an enabling environment for the unemployed to live a gainful life. It’s time that Africa and Africans got strategic with WTO to make sure that trade becomes a means of re-industrialisation of Africa and not under development. There must be alternative trade policies that would factor the needs of working people around the world, inclusive of economic growth and sustainable development. It’s gratifying that the new WTO promises to build capacity for Africa on trade facilitation. But much more desirable would be to impress on Europe and America to stop erecting trade barriers against Africa’s  nascent new exporters and dismantle huge subsidies and numerous protective measures  for their own agricultural products in particular even as they press Africans to have none of such measures for their economies. The European Union just announced considering “giving member states more power to block Covid-19 vaccine exports, according to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. So much for international trade an era of pandemic.

Issa Aremu mni

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