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Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala named new WTO chief

66-year-old becomes 1st African, 1st woman to lead world trade body

Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on Monday became the first woman and first African to head the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The WTO’s 164 members unanimously decided to appoint the 66-year-old development economist to serve a four-year term as director general.

“A strong WTO is vital if we are to recover fully and rapidly from the devastation wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Ngozi told WTO members after her election at a special meeting of the organization’s General Council in Geneva.

She later told journalists that the WTO needs to work to “accelerate supplies and vaccines to poor countries,” and look at export restrictions and prohibitions from members.

Ngozi, who is Nigeria’s former finance minister, said she looks forward to working with members to shape and implement the policy responses needed 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 also spoke of a lack of trust involving the US, China, and the EU, and also between developing and developed nations.

“It’s a priority to really reform that and take account of the inputs of our members to make sure we come up with a dispute settlement system that works for all there is a need to modernize the rules,” she said.

The US blocking new judges’ appointments has led to paralysis of the WTO’s dispute settlement system.

Ngozi will take up her duties on March 1, and her renewable term will expire on Aug. 31, 2025.

Last October, most of the WTO members supported Ngozi. The US was the only nation to oppose her candidacy at that meeting, instead supporting South Korean candidate Yoo Myung-hee, who withdrew her bid last month.

After Yoo’s withdrawal, US President Joe Biden’s administration said it would support Ngozi, who is also reported to have US citizenship.

It was the first time two women vied for the top job at the WTO, which has seen the US at loggerheads with China at many of its meetings in recent times, especially under the just-ended Donald Trump administration.


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