First woman to head WTO is Nigerian

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The World Trade Organization officially named US-trained Nigerian economist Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as its seventh director-general on Monday.

Okonjo-Iweala becomes the first African and first woman to lead the WTO. Her arrival comes at a time when the organization looks for solutions to the coronavirus pandemic and trade issues between the United States and China.

“A strong WTO is vital if we are to recover fully and rapidly from the devastation wrought by the Covid-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) pandemic,” Okonjo-Iweala said in a statement.

“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,” she added.

The United States under the Trump administration had refused to join other countries in appointing Okonjo-Iweala and instead backed the other finalist for the post, South Korean trade minister Yoo Myung-hee.

After he took office, US President Joe Biden endorsed Okonjo-Iweala and Yoo withdrew her candidacy.

Okonjo-Iweala, who earned a bachelor’s degree in development economics at Harvard and a doctorate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was among the eight candidates nominated for director-general last summer.

Robert Azevedo resigned as WTO chief last August, a year before the end of his second term, saying he felt the organization needed a change in leadership. SOVEREIGNPH

 

Okonjo-Iweala, 66, is chair of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization and sits on the board of Standard Chartered and Twitter. She served two tenures as Nigerian finance minister and spent 25 years as an economist at the World Bank, where she rose to its No. 2 position of managing director of operations.

“Dr. Okonjo-Iweala brings a wealth of knowledge in economics and international diplomacy from her 25 years with the World Bank and two terms as Nigerian finance minister,” the Office of the US Trade Representative said earlier this month.

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