Nigeria’s Okonjo-Iweala makes history as first female and Black WTO chief

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In a closed-door meeting on Monday, Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala) was unanimously elected as the next Director-General of the World Trade Organization, this was confirmed by two sources who attended the meeting.

As gathered by GhanaTalksRadio, the 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.

As director-general, a position that wields limited formal power, Okonjo-Iweala, 66, will need to broker international trade talks in the face of persistent U.S.-China conflict; respond to pressure to reform trade rules; and counter protectionism heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

A 25-year veteran of the World Bank, where she oversaw an $81 billion portfolio, Okonjo-Iweala ran against seven other candidates by espousing a belief in trade’s ability to lift people out of poverty.

She studied development economics at Harvard after experiencing civil war in Nigeria as a teenager. She returned to the country in 2003 to serve as finance minister and backers point to her hard-nose negotiating skills that helped seal a deal to cancel billions of dollars of Nigerian debt with the Paris Club of creditor nations in 2005.

“She brings stature, she brings experience, a network and a temperament of trying to get things done, which is quite a welcome lot in my view,” former WTO chief Pascal Lamy told Reuters. “I think she’s a good choice.”

Key to her success will be her ability to operate in the centre of a “U.S.-EU-China triangle”, he said.

The endorsement of the Biden administration cleared the last obstacle to her appointment.