Okonjo-Iweala to lead World Trade Organisation

16 February 2021

Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has been appointed the new chief of the World Trade Organization, becoming the first woman to ever lead the institution and the first African citizen to take on the role. In accepting the position she said that she would make global economic recovery from the pandemic a priority.

“It’s been a long and tough road, full of uncertainty, but now it’s the dawn of a new day and the real work can begin,” Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said in her acceptance speech.

Born in Nigeria, Okonjo-Iweala graduated from Harvard University in 1976 and then earned a PhD from MIT. She then became the first woman to take on the Nigerian finance ministry and the foreign ministry too. She was also the first female to run for the World Bank presidency, where she spent 25 years. She will assume her post at the WTO on March 1 for a renewable term expiring on August 31, 2025.

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala said in a statement that she was honored to have been selected and would work with the organization’s member countries to address health issues brought about by the pandemic and get the global economy going again.

"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 WTO was created in 1995 to help settle trade disputes, write new trade rules and encourage the flow of goods and services worldwide. It faces many challenges but Okonjo-Iweala said her leadership could help build a stronger, more relevant and more inclusive trading system.

“The challenges facing the WTO are numerous and tricky, but they are not insurmountable,” she said.

The WTO’s General Council, which includes representatives from all of the group’s 164 member countries, agreed in a meeting on Monday that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala should be the next director general. As with many of its other decisions, the organization was required to reach a consensus on the appointment, meaning no member country could object to the choice.