Former Nigerian finance minister makes history as head of WTO
Former Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala received unanimous backing on Monday to become the first woman and first African director-general of the World Trade Organization.
Okonjo-Iweala will have a very difficult task at the trade body, even though Donald Trump, who had threatened to pull the United States out of the organisation, is no longer president.
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.
“What it (the WTO) needs is someone who has the capability to drive reform, who knows trade and who does not want to see business as usual. And that is me,” she said on Monday.
Earlier she told Reuters in an interview that her top priority would be to ensure the trade body does more to address the COVID-19 pandemic, calling the disparities in vaccine rates between rich and poor countries “unconscionable” and urging members to lift export restrictions on medical items.
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 negotiating skills that helped seal a deal to cancel billions of dollars of Nigerian debt with the Paris Club of creditor nations in 2005.