WTO Ushers In Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala with an official of the WTO on her first day in office.

THE WORLD Trade Organization (WTO) on Monday officially welcomed Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the first woman and African to take up the post, into office as Director General.

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s term, which is renewable, will expire on August 31, 2025.

According to the General Council Chair, David Walker of New Zealand, who together with co-facilitators Ambassador Dacio Castillo (Honduras) and Ambassador Harald Aspelund (Iceland) led the nine-month DG selection process, “This is a very significant moment for the WTO. On behalf of the General Council, I extend our warmest congratulations to Dr. Okonjo-Iweala on her appointment as the WTO’s next Director General and formally welcome her to this General Council meeting.”

“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 in a statement issued in mid-February following the announcement of the new DG.

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala said “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 followed 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 the Republic of Korea.

However following Ms Yoo’s decision on February 5 to withdraw her candidacy, the administration of US President Joseph R. Biden Jr. dropped the US objection and announced instead that Washington extended its “strong support” to the candidacy of Dr. Okonjo-Iweala.

The process for selecting a new Director General was triggered on May 14 when the former Director General, Mr. Roberto Azevêdo, informed WTO members he would be stepping down from his post a year before the expiry of his mandate. He subsequently left office on August 31.