Nigeria’s former Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on Monday was confirmed as the next Director-General of the World Trade Organisation on a renewable term, to commence March 1 and expires August 31,2025.
She is the first woman, first African to lead the international trade body.
“This is a very significant moment for the WTO,” said General Council Chair David Walker of New Zealand who, together with co-facilitators Amb. Dacio Castillo (Honduras) and Amb. Harald Aspelund (Iceland) led the nine-month DG selection process.
“On behalf of the General Council, I extend our warmest congratulations to Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on her appointment as the WTO’s next Director-General and formally welcome her to this General Council meeting.
“Dr Ngozi, on behalf of all members I wish to sincerely thank you for your graciousness in these exceptional months, and for your patience.
“We look forward to collaborating closely with you, Dr Ngozi, and I am certain that all members will work with you constructively during your tenure as Director-General to shape the future of this organization.”
Quoted in a WTO statement, Dr Okonjo-Iweala said a key priority for her would be to work with members to quickly address the economic and health consequences brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I am honoured to have been selected by WTO members as WTO Director-General,” she said.
“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.
“Our organization faces a great many challenges but working together we can collectively make the WTO stronger, more agile, and better adapted to the realities of today.”
And following the confirmation of her appointment on Monday, President Buhari on behalf of the Federal Government and all Nigerians, warmly felicitated with Dr. Okonjo-Iweala on her election which he says is bringing joy and more honour to the country.
“As the Harvard-educated and renowned economist takes up another onerous task of service to the world and humanity, the President believes her track record of integrity, diligence, and passion for development will continue to yield positive results and rewards to mankind,” the President stated.
South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee had been the only other remaining contender for the post but pulled out when it became clear that new US President Joe Biden was swinging firmly behind Okonjo-Iweala’s candidacy.
The organisation has been leaderless since Brazilian career diplomat Roberto Azevedo stepped down last August, a year ahead of schedule time.
The process of picking one of eight candidates to succeed him had been expected to wrap up by November last year, but the administration of former US President Donald Trump blocked the consensus on her candidacy.
Okonjo-Iweala, who boasted US, EU and African backing, was not at the WTO’s Geneva headquarters for Monday’s meeting, but was scheduled to hold an online press conference after its conclusion.
She will take over an organisation mired in multiple crises and struggling to help member states navigate the severe global economic slump triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.