WASHINGTON The World Trade Organization on Monday formally selected Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a Nigerian economist and former finance minister, to be its next leader. The first woman and the first African to serve as CEO, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala will take office on March 1 for a renewable term expiring on August 31, 2025.
Dr. Okonjo-Iweala said in a statement that she was honored to have been elected and would work with member states organizations to address the health issues caused by the pandemic and bring the global economy back on track.
A strong WTO is vital if we want to fully and quickly recover from the devastation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, said Dr. Okonjo-Iweala. Our organization faces many challenges, but by working together we can make the WTO stronger, more agile and better adapted to today’s realities.
Dr. Okonjo-Iweala takes over the WTO at a particularly difficult time for the global trading body, which was set up in 1995 to help resolve trade disputes, write new trade rules and encourage the flow of goods, and services worldwide.
Organizations that many critics say have failed on some of those fronts, including failing to advance new trade negotiations and adequately policing China’s unjust economic behavior. In a time of growing global protectionism and deep uncertainty about the global economy brought about by the pandemic, the system of dispute resolution organizations also remains crippled following challenges from the Trump administration.
In an introductory speech given by the video link in a mostly empty meeting room at WTO headquarters on Lake Geneva in Switzerland, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala accepted those challenges but achieved a hopeful note of how its leadership can help build a stronger, more important and more inclusive trading system.
It has been a long and difficult road, full of uncertainty, but now it is the dawn of a new day and the real work can begin, she said. The challenges facing the WTO are numerous and complex, but they are not insurmountable.
At a press conference with reporters on Monday, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala said its initial priorities would include working with other international organizations to establish sustainable rules to respond to pandemics and to make progress in two negotiations on fisheries subsidies and digital commerce.
The WTO General Council, which includes representatives from all groups of 164 member countries, agreed at a meeting Monday that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala to be the next CEO. As with many other decisions, the organization was asked to reach a consensus on the appointment, meaning that no member state could oppose the election.
Former director general of organizations Roberto Azevdo of Brazil resigned in August after announcing in May that he would leave a year earlier. WTO members then considered eight candidates for the position.
By October, most countries had announced their support for Dr. Okonjo-Iweala. But Trump administration officials continued to voice support for South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee, saying they believed she had more trading experience, a stalemate that left the organization without a leader for several months.
After the Biden administration entered office, Ms. Yoo withdrew her candidacy and the United States announced her support for Dr. Okonjo-Iweala.
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