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Okonjo-Iweala makes history, becomes 1st female, African WTO DG


…says ‘we’ll get global economy going again’

  • Buhari, Lawan, Atiku, Kalu, Okowa celebrate ex-Minister


Two-time former Nigeria’s Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has added to her already impressive list of credentials, becoming the first woman and first African to be appointed as Director General (DG) of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The global trade organization announced Okonjo- Iweala’s appointment in a statement yesterday, after all members of its top deci-sion-making body, the General Council, agreed on her appointment in a virtual meeting. “WTO members have just agreed to appoint Dr. Okonjo-Iweala as the next Director-General of the WTO.


The decision was taken at a special meeting today (yesterday) of the organisation’s General Council. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala will become  the first woman and the first African to head the WTO,” the statement said. Okonjo-Iweala will assume duties on March 1, while her term will expire on August 31, 2025, but it could be renewed, the Geneva- based organisation stated. Reacting to the news of her selection as WTO DG yesterday afternoon, Okonjo-Iweala, said: “I am honoured to have been selected by WTO members 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. 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 appointment follows months of deadlocked discussions among WTO members on who should be chosen as the next DG since former chief, Roberto Azevedo stepped down in August, a year earlier than his second four-year term was set to end.


Although Okonjo-Iweala received the backing of the WTO’s General Council for the top job, she was rejected by the Trump administration which reportedly favoured South Korean Trade Minister, Yoo Myung-hee.


However, Yoo Myung-hee withdrew from the race a few weeks ago and with the announcement by the new Biden administration in the U.S. that it would support Okonjo-Iweala, the path was clear for the ex-Nigerian Finance Minister to become one of the few female heads of a major multilateral body.


Fellow female leaders, such as European Commission’s President Ursula von der Leyen and President of the European Central Bank, Christine Lagarde, have already congratulated Okonjo-Iweala on the appointment.


“This is an historic moment for the entire world. I’m so glad to see a woman from Africa at the head. Europe is fully behind you. “We support the reform of the WTO and will help you protect the rules-based multilateral trading system,” Von der Leyen said on Twitter. Lagarde noted that she has “known Ngozi for many years. Her strong will and determination will drive her to tirelessly promote free trade to the benefit of people worldwide.” Congratulatory messages have also been pouring in for the new WTO D-G from prominent Nigerians at home and abroad. President Muhammadu Buhari said Okonjo-Iweala’s election has brought joy and more honour to the country.


“As the Harvard-educated and renowned economist takes up another onerous task of service to the world and humanity, the President believes her track record of integrity, diligence and passion for development will continue to yield positive results and rewards to mankind.

“President Buhari affirms that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, who over the years set major records of economic reforms in Nigeria as Minister of Finance, and later Minister of Foreign Affairs, will excel in her new position and validate the global mandate of repositioning and strengthening the multilateral institution for the greater good of all,”


Buhari said in a statement signed by his spokesman, Garba Shehu. Also, Senate President Ahmad Lawan congratulated Nigeria on the latest feat of its great daughter on the international stage.


“With her latest feat, the former Nigerian Minister of Finance and Managing Director of the World Bank has, again, brought honour to Nigeria, Africa and women everywhere,” Lawan said. Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila said Okonjo- Iweala’s unanimous confirmation is a testament to her years of experience in the financial sector both at home and abroad.


The Speaker said with her pedigree, he believes she would take the WTO to enviable heights during her term as the DG. Secretary of the APC Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee, Senator John AkpanUdoedehe, in a statement, said: “We are proud to note that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s mandate to head the WTO followed broad support from members of the global trade body.


The APC is confident that Okonjo-Iweala, a renowned economist and Nigeria’s former finance minister, will successfully lead the needed reforms to reposition the WTO to effectively deliver on its mandate to promote open and fair trade for the benefit of all. Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Otunba Adeniyi Adebayo, in his speech, delivered via zoom at the special General Council meeting of the WTO, described her appointment as the right choice which will do the organisation a lot of good in years to come.


Describing the process of selection as transparent, the minister said: “Nigeria wishes to express profound gratitude and deep appreciation to all the members, who one way or the other, assisted Dr. Ngozi Okonjo- Iweala during the campaign period. Thanks also goes to all the regional groupings in the WTO for granting audience and support during and after the exercise.


“We also thank the WTO Secretariat staff, translators and the press who worked really hard in supporting and providing updates to members and the general public on the Director-General selection process.” Similarly, in his congratulatory message sent from Vienna on behalf of OPEC, the Secretary General of OPEC,


Nigeria’s Mohammad Sanusi Barkindo, said Okonjo-Iweala fully de-served her appointment as the DG of WTO. He stated: “We wish you every success in your new role leading the WTO, a key organization for the effective functioning of the global economy and in helping trade flow as freely as possible. We commend the wisdom of the General Council of the WTO for the historic nature of your appointment, as you are the first woman and first person hailing from the continent of Africa to take up the reigns of the organization.”


He stated that the former Finance Minister’s appointment comes at an extremely challenging time for the world and the WTO, adding that given that global trade has been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, “support for the multilateral system needs to be bolstered and the WTO, under your leadership, will embark on a period of substantive and procedural reform.”


Analysts point out that as WTO DG, a position that wields limited formal power, Okonjo-Iweala will need to play an active role in negotiating international trade talks in the face of persistent U.S.-China conflict; respond to pressure to reform trade rules; and counter protectionism heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic.


Okonjo-Iweala, who is a special envoy for the World Health Organization on COVID- 19 and, until recently, chair of the board of global vaccine alliance, Gavi, told Reuters that trade’s contribution to public health would be a priority.






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