Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala Becomes First Female, African WTO Chief

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has appointed Nigeria’s former two-time Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as its seventh director-general, making her the first female and first African to lead the international body.

WTO’s General Council, which consists of 164 members, unanimously chose developmental economist Okonjo-Iweala on Feb. 15 to serve as the next director-general for a four-year term.

Okonjo-Iweala said she was “honored” for being appointed and that her first priority is to quickly address the economic and health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“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,” Okonjo-Iweala said in a statement.

Okonjo-Iweala also said that WTO members should speed up efforts on lifting export restrictions that slow down trade in essential medicines and supplies and warned of the danger of “vaccine nationalism” as she takes on the top position amid the pandemic that has caused heavy damages to several countries around the world.

“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,” Okonjo-Iweala said.

Taking office on March 1, Okonjo-Iweala will also face the challenge of managing a growing economic divide between the United States and China, which has been increasing friction in recent years.

The appointment came months after former U.S. President Donald Trump moved to block her candidacy, supporting South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee instead, but she withdrew her candidacy earlier this month.

The Biden-Harris administration then expressed its “strong support” for Okonjo-Iweala.

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