WTO confirms Okonjo-Iweala as new DG

[By VICTOR NZE]

United Nations body, the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Monday afternoon, confirmed Nigeria’s former Minister of Finance and Economy, as well as the Foreign Affairs ministry, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, as its new Director-General.

Dr Okonjo-Iweala

WTO’s General Council agreed by consensus to select Okonjo-Iweala as the organization’s seventh Director-General at its meeting, Monday.

Earlier, speculations were rife on Okonjo-Iweala’s imminent appointment following the U-turn by the United States Government which finally endorsed her candidacy.

Okonjo-Iweala now becomes the first woman and African to occupy the position at the WTO in its 25-year history.

Okonjo-Iweala had previously secured the maximum support of the 164-Member States of the WTO, but faced the veto powers of the U.S which had opted to back the South Korean Trade Minister, Yoo Myung-hee, her female rival for the United Nations job.

However, Okonjo-Iweala became the only candidate left in the race following the withdrawal of South Korea’s Yoo Myung-hee in November, last year.

Earlier in October, Okojo-Iweala secured the popular vote of Member States of the WTO and was clear to getting the final nod for the job at the meeting General Council of the WTO scheduled for November 9, which had to be postponed following the United States’ failure to endorse the Nigerian candidate.

Okonjo-Iweala has served as Managing Director of the World Bank (for Africa, South/Central and Europe), a chairman at the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization.

Confirming Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment in a statement, Monday afternoon, the WTO initially announced via its official Twitter handle (@wto) that: “Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala from Nigeria is appointed as the next WTO Director-General.

“Dr. Okonjo-Iweala makes history as the first woman and the first African to lead the WTO.

“Her term starts on the 1st of March 2021.

“More details soon.”

Vacancy for the top WTO job arose early when Brazil’s Roberto Azevedo decided to step down at the end of August, 2020, a year before his term was due to end.

“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 Amb. Dacio Castillo (Honduras) and Amb. Harald Aspelund (Iceland) led the nine-month DG selection process.

“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.

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.”

Okonjo-Iweala was selected by consensus as the next director-general of the World Trade Organization at a closed-door meeting on Monday.

All members of the WTO’s top decision-making body, the General Council, agreed on her appointment in a virtual meeting which had just one agenda item, they said.

The WTO subsequently confirmed the choice.

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