Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala Appointed Next WTO Director
February 16, 2021
Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was appointed Monday to head the World Trade Organization, becoming the first woman and first African to take on the role, amid disagreement over how the body decides cases involving billions in sales and thousands of jobs.
Okonjo-Iweala, 66, was named director-general of the World Trade Organization, which deals with the rules of trade between nations, by representatives of the 164 member countries.
She said in a statement that her first priority would be quickly addressing the economic and health consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and to “implement the policy responses we need to get the global economy going again.”
The appointment came after U.S. President Joe Biden endorsed her candidacy, which had been blocked by former president Donald Trump.
Biden’s move was a step toward his aim of supporting more cooperative approaches to international problems after Trump’s “America first” approach that launched multiple trade disputes.
But unblocking the appointment is only the start in dealing with trade disputes launched by Trump and in resolving concerns the United States has about the WTO that date to the Obama administration. The U.S. had blocked the appointment of new judges to the WTO’s appellate body, essentially freezing its ability to resolve extended and complex trade disputes.
Okonjo-Iweala is the first African official and the first woman to hold the job.
She has been Nigeria’s finance minister and, briefly, foreign minister, and has had a 25-year career at the World Bank as an advocate for economic growth and development in poorer countries. She rose to the No. 2 position of managing director, where she oversaw $81 billion US in development financing in Africa, South Asia, Europe and Central Asia.