Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has been appointed the new Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO); making her the first woman to ever lead the Switzerland-based institution and the first African citizen to take on the role.
In October, 2020, her WTO candidacy was supported by all geographic regions at the trade body apart from the United States, where the then-Trump administration said it would continue backing the Korean candidate.
However, Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment was cleared when President Joe Biden announced a few days ago his support for the 66-year old.
The WTO is at a crossroads after many countries seemed to take a step back from long-standing norms governing international trade.
In addition, its appellate body has been paralyzed for months after the U.S., again, under the Trump administration, prevented the appointment of new judges therefore rendering it unable to rule on any trade disputes.
Okonjo-Iweala told WTO members during a hearing in July, 2020:
My vision is also of a rejuvenated and strengthened WTO that will be confident to tackle effectively ongoing issues.
It is clear that a rules-based system without a forum in which a breach of the rules can be effectively arbitrated loses credibility over time.
I can take hardship. I can sleep on the cold floor anytime.
Officials in the European Union and the United States have previously said the WTO needs to be reformed and its rules updated, but there is no consensus on how to do it.
She is also likely to support female participation in global trade, having said that “greater efforts should be made to include women-owned enterprises in the formal sector.”
Born in Nigeria, Okonjo-Iweala graduated from Harvard University in 1976 and then earned a PhD from MIT. She then became the first woman to take on the Nigerian finance ministry and the foreign ministry too. She was also the first female to run for the World Bank presidency, where she spent 25 years.
She has also been involved in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, being the African Union’s special envoy on the matter.
Okonjo-Iweala has been a board member of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance — a public-private health partnership immunizing people in poorer countries.