WTO confirms appointment of first female director-general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

Nigeria's former finance minister also becomes the first African to lead the organisation

Nigeria's Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala poses at her home in Potomac, Maryland, near Washington DC, as she was confirmed as the first woman and first African leader of the beleaguered World Trade Organization,on February 15, 2021. Nigerian economist Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was appointed February 15, 2021 as the first female and first African head of the World Trade Organization, at a special general meeting. "WTO members have just agreed to appoint Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the next director-general," the global trade body said in a statement, adding that the former Nigerian finance minister and World Bank veteran will take up her post on March 1.

 / AFP / Eric BARADAT

The World Trade Organisation has confirmed the appointment of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as its new director-general.

Ms Okonjo-Iweala, a former finance minister in Nigeria, becomes the first woman and the first African to lead the Geneva-based trade body.

"This is a very significant moment for the WTO," said David Walker, chair of the organisation's General Council. Mr Walker, the organisation's New Zealand representative, led the nine-month selection process for a new director-general alongside Dacio Castillo from Honduras and Iceland's Harald Aspelund.

"On behalf of all members I wish to sincerely thank you for your graciousness in these exceptional months, and for your patience," Mr Walker added. "I am certain that all members will work with you constructively during your tenure as director-general."

The process for choosing a new director-general was triggered in May last year after the organisation's former leader Roberto Azevêdo said he would step down from his role a year earlier than planned. He left office on August 31 last year and the post has been vacant since.

WTO leaders are appointed through consensus rather than elections and Ms Okonjo-Iweala's appointment followed an impasse that dragged on for months because President Trump's administration in the US refused to endorse her appointment, throwing its support behind South Korea's trade minister Yoo Myung-hee instead. However, Ms Yoo withdrew from the race on February 5 and new American president Joe Biden's administration then extended its strong support for Ms Okonjo-Iweala's bid. The US Trade Representative's office said she was "widely respected for her effective leadership" and had proven experience in managing a large international organisation.

Ms Okonjo-Iweala said she was "honoured" to be selected, adding that a strong WTO was needed for the global economy to make a rapid recovery from the devastation caused 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.

"Our organisation 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."

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