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After taking over as the director general of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala made a statement of sorts on Wednesday when she chose the Indian Mission in Geneva as her first stop.

The visit came days after the former Nigerian foreign and finance minister was encouraged by India to apply Mahatma Gandhi’s famous ‘talisman test’ in her days ahead as the first African woman to head the WTO.

Okonjo-Iweala takes charge at a time when the multilateral trading system is facing an existential crisis, with a dysfunctional appellate body and growing protectionism.

Also Read | India’s vaccine rollout changes gears

“Mahatma Gandhi, who began his civil rights movement while in Africa, had given us a talisman that I am sure that Dr Ngozi is aware of. He had suggested a test when in doubt while taking a decision. We encourage Dr Ngozi to apply this test whenever in doubt and be guided by the need for promoting the welfare of world’s vast population of the poor and the vulnerable," India’s ambassador to the WTO Brajendra Navnit told the Special General Council on 15 February.

In one of his last thoughts, jotted down in 1948, the year of his assassination, Gandhi wrote, “I will give you a talisman. Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him...Then you will find your doubts and your self melt away."

On her first day in office on 1 March, Okonjo-Iweala said it cannot be business as usual at the WTO. “We have to change our approach from debate and rounds of questions to delivering results. We need to prioritize action on covid-19 both for the immediate and longer-term and focus on completing the fisheries subsidies negotiations before the middle of the year," she said. India and South Africa have proposed at the WTO an intellectual property right waiver for coronavirus vaccines to ensure timely and affordable supplies to poor countries. The move has been opposed by rich nations and the pharmaceutical industry.

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