The World Trade Organization officially selected Dr.Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a Nigerian economist and former finance minister, to be its next chief making her the first woman and the first African to lead the World Trade Organisation.
Dr.Okonjo-Iweala will assume the post on March 1 for a renewable term expiring on Aug. 31, 2025.
A native of Nigera, Dr.Okonjo-Iweala graduated from Harvard University in 1976, has a PhD from MIT and was also the first woman to take on Nigeria’s Finance and Foreign Ministries.
Her WTO candidacy to become the 7th Director-General of WTO was favoured by many WTO members, including the European Union, China, Japan and Australia but was blocked by the Trump administration who backed South Korea’s Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee.
Robert Lighthizer, the US trade representative under former president Donald Trump and a long time WTO critic, said that Okonjo-Iweala had “no experience in trade at all”.
But her path was cleared when Yoo backed out of the race and the new US President Joe Biden announced his support for the 66-year old Okonjo-Iweala.
The WTO is said to be at a crossroads after many countries have not been following long-standing norms governing international trade and also due to the Trump administration preventing the appointment of new judges which made it difficult for US to rule on any trade disputes.
“My vision is also of a rejuvenated and strengthened WTO that will be confident to tackle effectively ongoing issues. It is clear that a rules-based system without a forum in which a breach of the rules can be effectively arbitrated loses credibility over time” said Okonjo-Iweala.
“The WTO appears paralyzed at a time when its rule book would greatly benefit from an update to 21st century issues such as ecommerce and the digital economy, the green and circular economies” Okonjo-Iweala added.
Dr.Okonjo-Iweala said in a statement that she was honored to have been selected and would work with the organization’s member countries to address health issues brought about by the pandemic and “get the global economy going again.”
“A strong W.T.O. is vital if we are to recover fully and rapidly from the devastation wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic,” Dr.Okonjo-Iweala said. “Our organization faces a great many challenges but working together we can collectively make the W.T.O. stronger, more agile and better adapted to the realities of today.”