Members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) made history on Monday when the General Council agreed by consensus to select Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria as the organization’s seventh Director-General (DG).
She becomes the first female DG of the multilateral trade rule-making body in its 25 years of history.
“When she takes office on 1 March, Dr Okonjo-Iweala will become the first woman and the first African to be chosen as Director-General,” said a press statement of the WTO, issued Monday night (Bangladesh time). “Her term, renewable, will expire on 31 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 WTO's next Director-General and formally welcome her to this General Council meeting," said General Council Chair David Walker of New Zealand who, together with co-facilitators Ambassador Dacio Castillo (Honduras) and Ambassador Harald Aspelund (Iceland) led the nine-month DG selection process.
Dr Okonjo-Iweala said 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 by WTO members as WTO Director-General," said Dr Okonjo-Iweala. "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."
The General Council decision follows months of uncertainty which arose when the United States initially refused to join the consensus around Dr Okonjo-Iweala and threw its support behind Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee of the Republic of Korea.
But following Ms Yoo's decision on 5 February to withdraw her candidacy, the administration of newly elected US President Joseph R. Biden Jr. dropped the US objection and announced instead that Washington extends its "strong support" to the candidacy of Dr Okonjo-Iweala.
The process for selecting a new Director-General was triggered on 14 May when Mr Roberto Azevêdo, former DG, informed WTO members he would be stepping down from his post one year before the expiry of his mandate. He subsequently left office on August 31.
[Details is available at :www.wto.org]