Nigeria’s Okonjo-Iweala takes over as WTO chief

A picture taken on July 15, 2020, in Geneva shows Nigerian former Foreign and Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala smiling during a hearing before World Trade Organisation 164 member states' representatives, as part of the application process to head the WTO as director-general. South Korean trade minister Yoo Myung-hee on February 5, 2021 abandoned her bid to become head of the WTO, Seoul said, clearing the way for Nigeria's Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to become the global body's first woman and first African director-general. Photo: AFP | Fabrice Coffrini

GENEVA: The first female and first African director-general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, officially took office on Monday, ending a six-month “leaderless” period of the organisation, after former chief Roberto Azevedo stepped down on Aug 31, 2020, a year ahead of schedule.

“I am coming into one of the most important institutions in the world and we have a lot of work to do. I feel ready to go,” she said. On arrival at the WTO’s headquarters here, Okonjo-Iweala highlighted the importance of the organisation, reported Xinhua news agency.

Addressing the General Council on her first day in the post, Okonjo-Iweala pledged to “bring all her knowledge, passion, experience and persistence to the task at hand, reforming the organisation and achieving results”.

Okonjo-Iweala, 66, has served as Nigeria’s finance minister twice and briefly acted as foreign minister. She has worked for the World Bank for 25 years, including as managing director for operations.

On Feb 15, WTO members agreed by consensus to appoint Okonjo-Iweala as the new director-general. Her term, which is renewable, will expire on Aug 31, 2025.

“It cannot be business as usual. We have to change our approach from debate and rounds of questions to delivering results,” Okonjo-Iweala said. “We have to be more accountable to the people.”

Okonjo-Iweala hinted that WTO’s upcoming 12th Ministerial Conference, also called MC12, as an immediate opportunity to deliver.

“Virtually every delegation mentioned the urgency and importance of MC12 … Therefore, we must work hard to complete a few deliverables before MC12 so that ministers can focus on ratifying agreements and agreeing best methods for implementation.”

The WTO’s ministerial conference, which is attended by trade ministers and other senior officials from the organisation’s 164 member states, is the organisation’s highest decision-making body. – Bernama