WTO: Japan Congratulates Okonjo-Iweala

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New DG accepts apology from Swiss newspaper

By Iyobosa Uwugiaren and Olawale Ajimotokan

Japanese Ambassador to Nigeria, Kikuta Yutaka, has congratulated Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, as she resumed work yesterday as the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), in Geneva, Switzerland, saying Japan and Nigeria have common ground on WTO reform.

This is coming as the first woman and first African to lead the WTO yesterday welcomed an apology from a Swiss newspaper that had dismissed the seasoned international professional as a grandmother.

“It is important & timely that they’ve apologised,” Okonjo-Iweala said in a tweet.

The former Nigeria’s Minister of Finance is the first woman and first African Director-General of the WTO.

‘’I would like to extend my sincere congratulations to Nigeria on the selection, which was long-awaited and widely-supported by member countries’’, the ambassador stated.

Sharing some connections between Japan and Okonjo-Iweala, the outgoing ambassador said that the new WTO boss has been a member of the International Advisory Board of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) since 2017 – one of the bodies, which implement Japan’s ODA.

“Japan appreciates her insightful and valuable advice and suggestions on how to improve Japan’s ODA to the world, including Nigeria.

‘’Secondly, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala visited Japan on the occasion of TICAD7 in 2019 to attend a meeting as the Board Chair of Gavi Vaccine Alliance.

‘’She participated in the meeting, hosted by the Japanese Government, in order to support Gavi’s activities, which contributed to the successful achievement of the Global Vaccine Summit on 4 June last year’’, Yutaka added.

He explained that at the Summit, Gavi timely launched COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC) and last year, Japan pledged $130 million in funding to this instrument in order to enable developing countries, including Nigeria, to have equitable access to the COVID-19 vaccine.

He added that on February 9, the Government of Japan also announced that Japan will increase its contribution to the COVAX AMC in total $200 million, saying Japan and Nigeria have common ground on WTO reform.

The ambassador continued, ‘’Japan believes that reform of WTO should commence immediately. Mr. MOTEGI Toshimitsu, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan, and Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Nigeria, agreed to bolster cooperation for WTO reform during their telephone conversation in January this year.

‘’In this regard, it is encouraging that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala stated that she is eager to focus on the many needed reforms of WTO. Japan strongly supports Dr. Okonjo-Iweala and rests assured that she will work on accumulated issues and steadily advance the WTO reform.’’

The ambassador, who also announced his farewell, stated that after two years and nine months of his tenure in Nigeria, he will soon be leaving the country.

Looking back on his tenure, he added that there have been many achievements from high level to grassroots level in terms of deepening relations between Japan and Nigeria.

According to the ambassador, ‘’I cannot list them all here, but significant progress has been made in each field including politics, economics, economic cooperation, education and culture.

Meanwhile, Okonjo-Iweala yesterday welcomed an apology from a Swiss newspaper that had dismissed her as a grandmother.

When several Swiss newspapers announced her appointment last month, they decided the most noteworthy thing to mention about the new WTO chief was as a matriarch.

“This grandmother will become the boss of the WTO,” read the headline of the article published by the Aargauer Zeitung and several other papers on February 9.

After a number of women heads of UN agencies and more than 120 ambassadors in Geneva last week signed a petition calling out the headline as racist and sexist, the paper apologised.

“This headline was inappropriate and unsuitable… We apologise for this editorial mistake,” the paper’s foreign editor-in-chief Samuel Schumacher said in a statement on Friday.

In her tweet, Ngozi welcomed the apology and said she was “thankful to all my sisters, UN Women Leaders and the 124 Ambassadors in Geneva who signed the petition on calling out the racist & sexist remarks in this newspaper.”

“We need to call out this behaviour when it happens,” she insisted, decrying “the stereotypes women face when they take on leadership positions.

She said the headline debacle reflected the problems raised in a book she co-authored with former Australian Prime Minister, Julie Gillard called “Women and Leadership.”