FORMER finance minister Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has officially assumed office as the director-general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) after the body’s general council confirmed her appointment as a special meeting today.
During the final round of voting by WTO delegates last year, Dr Okonjo-Iweala emerged victorious, securing 104 votes from the 164 member countries, piping South Korea’s trade minister Yoo Myung-hee. to the top job. However, the US said it supported the selection of Ms Yoo because she is a bona fide trade expert who has distinguished herself during a 25-year career as a successful trade negotiator and trade policy maker.
Under its selection procedure, the WTO works by trying to finding a consensus on electing a director-general but with the US refusing to along with a majority, there was a stalemate. However, with President Joe Biden assuming office on January 20, the US was expected to return to being a collegiate player in world trade, abandoning the unilateralist style of President Donald Trump and confirming Dr Okonjo-Iweala’s nomination.
It emerged that this would happen earlier this month when Ms Yoo officially withdrew from the contest and President Biden was asked to formally endorse Dr Okonjo-Iweala as the new WTO boss. Today, the WTO’s general council met to formally confirm the decision, making Dr Okonjo-Iweala the first woman, first African and first black person to head the global trade body.
Under the trade body’s governing structure, the WTO director-general is appointed for a term of four years and the office manages the secretariat, which has about 700 staff. Dr Okonjo-Iweala, 66, is US-trained, having studied at Harvard University, with an Economics degree and then earning a PhD in regional economics and development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
She spent 25 years at the World Bank as a development economist, rising to the position of managing director, operations, Dr Okonjo-Iweala later served as finance minister in the Nigerian government of former presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan.
Before her exit from the Obasanjo government, Dr Okonjo-Iweala served as Nigeria’s foreign minister. She currently sits on the boards of Standard Chartered Bank, Twitter, Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization and the African Risk Capacity.