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Pandemic-induced recession may have plunged 7m Nigerians into poverty – Okonjo-Iweala

THE Director-General of World Trade Organisation (WTO), Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has said Nigeria’s economy is at a critical juncture.

She identified  insufficient structural change, coupled with the impact of Covid-19 pandemic, as the reason the country is more vulnerable to shocks from the fall in oil prices than five years ago.

Okonjo-Iweala made this known yesterday in Abuja, while meeting with captains of industry.

She said the looming transition to a low carbon global economy implied more changes ahead, hence careful economic planning and management will be vital.

The former Nigeria’s finance minister said Nigeria and WTO could help support the process of change because economic growth had been sluggish since 2016 when fallen oil prices pushed Nigeria’s economy to recession.

The director-general recalled that before Covid-19 hit the global economy, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth in 2018 and 2019 was in the neighbourhood of two per cent with population growth at around 2.5 per cent.

“The World Bank estimates that even without the pandemic two million Nigerians would have fallen into poverty in 2020, the pandemic induced recession is likely to have pushed an additional five million Nigerians into poverty in 2020.

“Nigeria’s economy shrank by 2.2 per cent in 2020 and will only recover to 1.5 per cent growth in 2021 according to IMF data.

“With the domestic market of over 200 million people, Nigeria has the potential to be an engine of investment, innovation and job creation in West Africa,” she said.

Okonjo-Iweala further said that in 2019 Nigeria accounted for 0.3 per cent of global merchandise trade, according to WTO data.

She stated that the seventh most populous country in the world ranked 48th in the merchandise export and 84th for export of commercial services like cargo, transport and business, among others.

The former finance minister noted that Nigeria’s trade with other African countries made up of 19 per cent of intra African trade in 2019.

This, she said, indicated that only 6.5 per cent of Nigeria’s import came from elsewhere in Africa.

The meeting was aimed at capturing activities of WTO and expectations of Nigeria and the private sector from the organisation to tackle their challenges.

The WTO DG also applauded Nigeria’s Afrobeats stars, Burna Boy and Wizkid, for winning awards at the 2021 Grammys.

She said their services should be encouraged for export in Nigeria.Okonjo-Iweala said with Nigeria’s large number of educated people, it has a comparative advantage in services with rooms to improve.

Burna Boy, whose real name is Damini Ogulu, won the Best Global Music Album category with his `Twice as Tall’ album.

Wizkid won the Best Video for his song, Brown Girl, with Beyonce Knowles.

The WTO director-general described the entertainment industry as a vibrant services sector embodied by artists, writers and the new generation of Nigerian musicians, actors and film makers.

“Recently Nigeria’s Burna Boy and Wizkid won the Grammy awards for their music and I will like to congratulate and applaud them because they were an example of services we can export.

“We are exporting so much of our creative arts abroad and this should be encouraged,” she said.

The meeting had in attendance representatives from Dangote company, Honeywell Group, First Bank Plc, Women Entrepreneurs and National Association of Nigerian Traders (NANTS).

The participants however appealed to the WTO director-general to assist their businesses through ongoing negotiations at the WTO, aimed at removing bottlenecks in international trade.

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