Paul Polman throws weight behind Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s candidacy for WTO job

As the World Trade Organization (WTO) election date draws increasingly closer, the Co-founder and Chairman of IMAGINE, and former Unilever CEO, Paul Polman, has joined a long list of reputable individuals who have backed Nigeria’s candidate, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, for the top job. 

Mr Paul Porman was effusive in his praise of the Nigerian candidate in his article published on Medium titled “The WTO needs a credible, reform-minded leader like Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala”. While calling for global cooperation in order to tackle the COVID-19 crisis, Paul pointed out that the development and distribution of a vaccine will require the input and participation of nations from all corners of the world. He explained that the WTO needs a credible, reform-focused leader like Okonjo-Iweala to discover a renewed purpose in order to serve all its members better.

Mr Polman noted that WTO in the past had only served to massively benefit the winners while so many others have lost out. He emphasized the need to create a balance that would ensure that every member benefits from the multilateral trade.

In his words, “The next leader of the WTO cannot afford to be inoffensive. Restoring the efficacy of the WTO means restoring its moral authority, and that means shaking things up. It is true that globalization has lifted many out of poverty, but it has come at a cost. Too many benefits have been accrued by the winners and too many have lost out. Inequality has spiralled. As a result, the good name of international trade has been sullied. On the left, it is blamed for the destruction of once-prosperous industrial communities. On the right, it is seen as standing in opposition to nationhood and patriotism.”

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While noting that the WTO DG’s executive power is quite limited, the former Unilever CEO believes Okonjo-Iweala possesses the gravitas and experience to drive the organization forward, having made a name for herself globally. He believes she can use her status and influence on the world stage to help the WTO gain a foothold in the fast-changing times. 

Paul also talked about the importance of trade to ensure that the COVID-19 vaccines, whenever they are available, are distributed fairly. According to him, there should be “no repeat of the “sicken-thy-neighbour” trade measures seen during the early months of the crisis”.

He wrote, “With the G20 having failed to forge a coordinated global response, hopes of avoiding a damaging escalation of vaccine-related trade barriers rest on the appointment of an effective WTO Director-General with integrity, political clout — and, ideally, a good understanding of pharmaceutical supply chains. Dr Okonjo- Iweala, as chair of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisations, is the only candidate that fits this description.”

The former Unilever boss added, “Beyond the vaccine, Covid-19 has increased the need for an effective body governing international trade in a number of ways. An unprecedented $12tn in economic stimulus packages has distorted global markets to the detriment of poorer nations. Excessive risk-aversion — what economists call “precautionism” — is increasing red tape and pushing up prices. Antagonism between nations continues to undermine the case for openness. The WTO could ease these problems, were it not stuck in a morass of squabbling and over-caution. To get a sense of the organization’s limitations, look no further than its process for choosing a direction general: all 164 members must agree on a candidate, a system that discourages radical reform.”

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In conclusion, Mr Polman described some other qualities possessed by the Nigerian candidate which makes her most suitable for the job. He outlined his beliefs that the organization needs a fresh face that was unsullied by recent infighting who will be well placed to resolve the disputes that have hamstrung the organization in recent years. He believes that the WTO has a very important role to play to help world economies bounce back from recession and there is no other person more suited to the position than Dr Okonjo-Iweala.

Several other reputable personalities have backed Okonjo-Iweala for the job since the announcement of her candidacy, including former Director of Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission, Patrick Lumumba, who shunned his country’s candidate in favour of Dr Okonjo-Iweala. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has also thrown its weight behind the Nigerian Candidate.

Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Gordon Brown, also pointed out that Dr Okonjo-Iweala had a record of delivering results in “the toughest of jobs”. Brown emphasized that Okonjo-Iweala is respected “across the whole of the world.” Despite the presence of a candidate from the United Kingdom, the former prime Minister publicly endorsed the two-time former Finance Minister of Nigeria.

Another significant gesture was made by the Republic of Benin who withdrew its candidate Éloi Laourou from the race to support Nigeria. One of the most experienced career diplomats in the Nigerian Foreign Service, Ambassador Emmanuel Obiako, also declared his support for her. Ex-Australian Prime Minister, Ms Julia Gillard, declared her support for the Nigerian candidate.

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Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has received countless endorsements from reputable organizations and individuals and we can rest assured that many others will follow as the race for the Director-General of the WTO reaches its climax.

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