Nigeria's Okonjo-Iweala chosen as head of WTO

Yolanda Curtis
February 16, 2021

The near-paralysed institution desperately needs a reboot - something Okonjo-Iweala immediately addressed after her coronation.

The former Nigerian finance minister will be tasked with restoring trust in a rules-based global trading system roiled by protectionism and the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Speaker, House of Representatives, Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila, has congratulated Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, on her emergence as the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

World Trade Organization countries today appointed Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as director-general.

"This is a very significant moment for the WTO", David Walker, the WTO's General Council chair, said in a statement.

Okonjo-Iweala said during an online news conference Monday that she was eager to begin the work of reforming the organization and modernizing the rules to bring them up to 21st century issues.

"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".

Critics of the organization said it has failed to intervene over some of China's most egregious economic offenses, which in turn has let the its economic adversary a currency manipulator and impose or threaten billions of dollars in tariffs on goods from China.

But unblocking the appointment is only the start in dealing with trade disputes launched by Trump, and in resolving US concerns about the WTO that date to the Obama administration.

The appointment, which takes effect March 1, came after President Biden endorsed her candidacy, which had been blocked by Trump.

The US had said it favoured Yoo over Okonjo-Iweala because WTO is in dire need of reform and must be "led by someone with real, hands-on experience in the field".

She held a previous role as chair of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation after a public sector career in worldwide finance, including two terms as Nigeria's finance minister and some 25 years at the World Bank. "She has all the skills necessary to be an effective leader of the organization", the United States trade representative had said.

" At the World Bank, you fronted several initiatives that supported low-income countries, including raising nearly 50 billion dollars from donors in an aid campaign for the International Development Association".

Her bright Nigerian prints are sure to stand out among the suits there where the majority of top staff are also men, like most of the delegates and ministers that walk its corridors.

She said during an online news conference that she was taking over at a time when the WTO "is facing so many challenges, and it's clear to me that deep and wide-ranging reforms are needed... it can not be business as usual". However, the United States held up a procedural move that would have allowed for a consensus vote by backing her challenger.

Okonjo-Iweala is scheduled to take office on March 1, filling the post that has been vacant since August of past year. She is expected to join the WTO's Geneva lakeside headquarters within weeks where her portrait is set to be hung beside others of men, mostly white and from rich countries.

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