Feb 15, 2021 - World

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala becomes first woman and first African to lead WTO

Nigeria's Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala poses in Potomac, Maryland minutes before she is confirmed Monday as the first woman and first African leader of the beleaguered World Trade Organization

Nigeria's Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala poses for a picture at her home in Potomac, Maryland. Photo: Eric Baradat/Getty Images

The World Trade Organization announced Monday that Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a Nigerian economist and former finance minister, has been selected as the global trade body's next director-general.

Why it matters: Okonjo-Iweala was named to the position by representatives from the WTO's 164 member countries, becoming the first woman and first African to take the helm.

  • The Biden administration endorsed her candidacy after former President Trump had previously blocked the appointment.
  • "But unblocking the appointment is only the start in dealing with trade disputes launched by Trump, and in resolving U.S. concerns about the WTO that date to the Obama administration," the AP writes.

What she's saying: The WTO “is facing so many challenges” and is in need of “deep and wide-ranging reforms," Okonjo-Iweala said in an online news conference.

  • "A strong WTO is vital if we are able to recover fully and rapidly from the devastation wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic," she said, adding that "vaccine nationalism" could slow pandemic recovery.
  • “It will not be easy because we have the issue of lack of trust among members which has built up over time."

What to watch: Okonjo-Iweala will start in her new capacity on March 1, for a renewable term expiring on Aug. 31, 2025.

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