Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria chosen as new WTO Director-General
Ngozi Okonjo-IwealaWTO (File photo)

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria chosen as new WTO Director-General

Geneva, February 16, 2021

Former Nigerian Finance Minister and international development professional Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria was on Monday chosen by the members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) as its seventh Director-General.

When she takes office on March 1, Dr Okonjo-Iweala will become the first woman and the first African to be chosen as Director-General. Her term, renewable, will expire on August 31, 2025, a press release from WTO said.

"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 Dacio Castillo (Honduras) and 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."

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 South Korea. But following Ms Yoo's decision on 5 February to withdraw her candidacy, the administration of newly elected US President Joseph R. Biden 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 May 14 last year, when former Director-General Roberto Azevêdo 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.

A global finance expert and economist, Dr Okonjo-Iweala has over 30 years of experience working in Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America and North America.

Currently, Dr Okonjo-Iweala is Chair of the Board of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. Since its creation in 2000, Gavi has immunized 760 million children globally and saved thirteen million lives.

She sits on the Boards of Standard Chartered PLC and Twitter Inc. She was recently appointed as African Union (AU) Special Envoy to mobilise international financial support for the fight against COVID-19 and WHO Special Envoy for Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator.

"She is a skilled negotiator and has brokered numerous agreements which have produced win-win outcomes in negotiations. She is regarded as an effective consensus builder and an honest broker enjoying the trust and confidence of governments and other stakeholders," the release said

Previously, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala twice served as Nigeria's Finance Minister (2003-2006 and 2011-2015) and briefly acted as Foreign Minister in 2006, the first woman to hold both positions.

She had a 25-year career at the World Bank as a development economist, rising to the No. 2 position of Managing Director, Operations. As a development economist and Finance Minister, Dr Okonjo-Iweala steered her country through various reforms ranging from macroeconomic to trade, financial and real sector issues.

She is a firm believer in the power of trade to lift developing countries out of poverty and assist them to achieve robust economic growth and sustainable development. As Finance Minister, she was involved in trade negotiations with other West African countries and contributed to the overhaul of Nigeria's trade policy enabling it to enhance its competitiveness. She has closely followed developments at the WTO, as she believes that a strengthened multilateral trading system is in the interests of all countries, particularly least developed and African countries.

She is renowned as the first female and African candidate to contest for the presidency of the World Bank Group in 2012, backed by Africa and major developing countries in the first truly contestable race for the world's highest development finance post. As Managing Director of the World Bank, she had oversight responsibility for the World Bank's $81 billion operational portfolio in Africa, South Asia, Europe and Central Asia. Dr Okonjo-Iweala spearheaded several World Bank initiatives to assist low-income countries during the 2008-2009 food crisis and later during the financial crisis. In 2010, she was Chair of the World Bank's successful drive to raise $49.3 billion in grants and low interest credit for the poorest countries in the world.

As Minister of Finance in Nigeria, she spearheaded negotiations with the Paris Club of Creditors that led to the wiping out of $30 billion of Nigeria's debt, including the outright cancellation of $18 billion.

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