Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala made history Monday, February 15, as the first woman and African to be selected as the director general of the World Trade Organization, WTO. The WTO Council ratified her selection Monday after the United States of America, USA dropped its opposition to her nomination. She will assume the post on March 1 for a renewable term expiring on August 31, 2025. The body was created in 1995 to settle trade disputes, make new trade rules, and encourage the flow of goods and services globally.
Former U.S president, Donald Trump, preferred South Korea’s trade minister, Yoo Myung-hee, claiming she had more trade experience, which was not true. He rejected Okonjo-Iweala after she had won the endorsement of European countries, Britain, African countries, and others. The global organization chooses its DG through consensus. They decided to delay the final decision till after the U.S presidential election to see if U. S would reconsider its stand.
Luck smiled on Okonjo-Iweala and Trump lost the presidential election. The South Korean contestant withdrew from the race after Trump’s loss. The new U.S President, Joe Biden, withdrew the U.S objection to Okonjo-Iweala’s election, clearing the way for her ratification by the council.
In her acceptance speech relayed through a video link to W.T.O’s headquarters in Geneva, Okonjo-Iweala acknowledged the challenges facing W.T.O and the world in an era of COVID-19 pandemic and promised to shore up the organization.
“A strong W.T.O. is vital if we are to recover fully and rapidly from the devastation wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic. Our organization faces a great many challenges, but working together, we can collectively make the W.T.O. stronger, more agile and better adapted to the realities of today…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. The challenges facing the W.T.O. are numerous and tricky, but they are not insurmountable.”
At a news conference on Monday, Okonjo-Iweala said her initial priorities would include working with other international organizations to create lasting rules for responding to pandemics and making progress in two negotiations over fishery subsidies and digital trade.
Former DG, Roberto Azevêdo of Brazil, resigned in August 2020 after announcing in May that he would be leaving one year early. Eight candidates contested for the post.
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