Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala becomes first woman and first African to lead WTO

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has been appointed as the next director general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), making her both the first woman and first African to lead the group.

It was announced that the former Nigerian finance minister would take the post on Monday.

Ms Okonjo-Iweala said she was “honoured” to have been selected as the head of the body, which governs rules on trading between nations.

In her term as director general, Ms Okonjo-Iweala promised to take on the challenges that the world is now facing as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, both in terms of health and the economy.

“A strong WTO is vital if we are to recover fully and rapidly from the devastation wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic. I look forward to working with members to shape and implement the policy responses we need to get the global economy going again,” she said.

She added that although the organisation is facing a great number of challenges, by working together she feels that “we can collectively make the WTO stronger, more agile and better adapted to the realities of today.”

WTO’s General Council chair, David Walker, called Ms Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment “a very significant moment for the WTO.”

The organisation has faced a multitude of challenges in recent years, including questions over how to manage friction between economic superpowers China and the United States. This has left some criticising the WTO’s failure to intervene over some of China’s economic offences.

Politico reported there is also the issue of determining whether or not the WTO rules were broken by the Trump administration in the United States, when in 2018 they boosted tariffs on steel and aluminium. 

The Trump administration, it appears, attempted to block Ms Okonjo-Iweala’s candidacy for the position and put its support behind another candidate, South Korea trade minister Yoo Myung-hee.

However, US president Joe Biden’s government has since issued a statement expressing its “strong support” for Ms Okonjo-Iweala. 

The statement read: “[She] brings a wealth of knowledge in economics and international diplomacy from her 25 years with the World Bank and two terms as Nigerian finance minister.”

Ms Okonjo-Iweala is an economist with a background in international development, who rose to become managing director of the World Bank.

She holds dual US and Nigerian citizenship and will officially take over as director general of the WTO on 1 March. Her term is set to last until August 2025. 


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