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WTO appoints history-making pick Ngozi Okonjo-Iwaela as director-general



(NEW YORK) — For the first time in its history, the World Trade Organization will be led by a woman.

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a native of Nigeria, was officially appointed as the new director-general of the global trade body on Monday. Okonjo-Iwaela, the former finance minister of Nigeria and second-in-command at the World Bank, will start her new role at the WTO on March 1.

Okonjo-Iwaela nodded to the historic nature of her appointment in a statement, saying it is the first time WTO members “are selecting a woman and an African as Director-General.”

“This is groundbreaking and positive,” she said. “I am grateful for the trust you have in me, not just as a woman and an African, but also in my knowledge, experience, and, as some of you have said, possessing the courage and passion to work with you to undertake the wide ranging reforms the WTO needs to reposition itself for the future.”

In a separate statement, she added that she hopes to hit the ground running and work with the organization to address the global economic pain brought on by 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,” Okonjo-Iwaela stated. “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.”

Her path to becoming director-general of the global trade regulators hit a few hurdles as the U.S. initially refused to join the consensus around Okonjo-Iwaela’s appointment, instead supporting a South Korean candidate on the shortlist last October. The Korean candidate, Yoo Myung-hee, eventually withdrew her name from consideration and a new administration entered the White House that announced its support for Okonjo-Iwaela — paving the way for her historic appointment.

WTO General Council Chair David Walker of New Zealand, who spearheaded the nine-month selection process, called Okonjo-Iwaela’s appointment a “very significant moment for the WTO” as he congratulated her and welcomed her to her first General Counsel meeting on Monday.

“Dr. Ngozi, on behalf of all members I wish to sincerely thank you for your graciousness in these exceptional months, and for your patience,” Walker added. “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.”

Okonjo-Iwaela’s first term, which is renewable, ends on Aug. 31, 2025.

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