Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala becomes first African and first female WTO leader

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala confirmed as Director General of the World Trade Organization, becoming the first woman and first African to head the world trade body.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was appointed by the WTO after its latest rival, the South Korean Minister of Commerce Yoo Myung Hee, left the race for a leadership position. She will take office on the first of March. Expiration is slated for August 2025.

Economist and former Nigerian finance minister Okonjo-Iweala enjoyed broad support from WTO members including the European Union, China, Japan and Australia. USA, under administration Donald Trump, preferred Yoo Myung Hee.

The WTO was established in 1995 with the aim of promoting open trade for the benefit of all countries. It negotiates and regulates international trade rules, trying to resolve disputes between its 164 members..

The organization is struggling to prevent trade rifts between member states, most notably the United States and China.. The Geneva-based body has operated without a permanent CEO since Roberto Azevedo retired a year earlier than planned.

Okonjo-Iweala recognizes the need for a series of reforms.

«It seems exciting and frightening at the same time.. I am looking forward to this challenge. Definitely the organization needs deep reforms to rebrand and reorient.», – she said in interview.

Okonjo-Iweala also named scaling up global efforts to combat Covid-19 as a top priority.

She believes that solving public health problems will directly affect the growth of world trade..

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria becomes the first black head of the WTO

Okonjo-Iweala spent 25 years at the World Bank as a development economist, rising to the position of Managing Director. She also chaired the GAVI council that helps spread coronavirus vaccines around the world, stepping down at the end of her term in December..

In response to concerns that rich countries are not doing enough to use vaccines everywhere, Okonjo-Iweala said the WTO needs «rules to ensure access and equity in vaccine distribution».

Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda, expressed concern that developing countries do not have access to the necessary amount of vaccine supplies for their citizens.

«Some wealthy countries stockpile vaccines by buying many times more doses than they need. This leaves African and other developing countries with little or no drugs.», – he noted.

Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment was seen by people in her native Nigeria as a significant achievement, and the #ankaraarmy hashtag of her supporters has already emerged on the internet..

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