Nigeria’s former Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has been confirmed as the next Director-General of the World Trade Organisation, with his tenure scheduled to start from March 1 this year.
She is the first woman and the first African to lead the international trade body.
The term will expire on August 31, 2025, although renewable.
“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.”
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, she was quoted in a WTO statement on Monday.
“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”, she said.
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.
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 to appoint Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.