Nigerian economist Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has been appointed as the next World Trade Organisation (WTO) Director-General, replacing Roberto Azevedo, who left office before the end of his term.
In a statement, WTO said that the General Council had agreed by consensus to select Dr Okonjo-Iweala as the organisation’s seventh boss.
The 66-year-old makes history as the first woman and African to lead the WTO. Her term starts on 1st March 2021 and will expire on 31st August 2025.
“This is a very significant moment for the WTO. On behalf of the General Council, I extend our warmest congratulations to Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on her appointment as the next Director-General and formally welcome her to this General-Council meeting,” said General Council chair David Walker.
“Dr Ngozi, on behalf of all members I wish to sincerely thank you for your graciousness in these exceptional months, and for your patience. 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,” he added.
For her part, Dr Okonjo-Iweala said that a key priority for her would be to work with members to quickly address the economic and health consequences brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I am honoured to have been selected as WTO Director-General. A strong WTO is vital if we are to recover fully and rapidly from the devastation brought by the Covid-19 pandemic, ” said Dr Okonjo-Iweala.
“I look forward to working with members to shape and implement the policy responses we need to get the global economy going again. Our organisation 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.”
The selection of a new Director-General was triggered on 14th May 2020 when Azevedo informed WTO members he would be stepping down from the post one year before the expiry of his mandate. He subsequently left office on 31st August.
WTO’s top seat attracted five competitors, including Kenya’s Sports Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed, failed to advance to the final round.
Others included Liam Fox (United Kingdom), Yoo Myung-hee (South Korea) Mohammad Maziad Al-Tuwaijri (Saudi Arabia) but only Okonjo-Iweala and Yoo Myung-hee made it to the final round.
However, Ngozi’s closest competitor, Yoo Myung-hee, the South Korean Trade minister withdrew from the race, leaving the Nigerian as the only choice.
Dr Okonjo-Iweala, who served as Nigeria’s Finance minister for two years and one term as Foreign Affairs minister, has experience working in international governance bodies as a former managing director of the World Bank and chairperson of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation.
She holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from Harvard University and a PhD in regional economics and development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.