Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria made history on 15th February 2021 as she becomes the first woman and the first African to be chosen as Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
The General Council agreed by consensus to select the experienced Nigerian as the organization’s seventh Director-General as she assumes her post on 1st March 2021. Her term of office will expire on 31st August 2025, but with an option to renew after the expiration.
“This is a very significant moment for the WTO. On behalf of the General Council, I extend our warmest congratulations to Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on her appointment as the WTO’s next Director-General and formally welcome her to this General Council meeting”.
“Dr. Ngozi, on behalf of all members I wish to sincerely thank you for your graciousness in these exceptional months, and for your patience. We look forward to collaborating closely with you, Dr. Ngozi, and I am certain that all members will work with you constructively during your tenure as Director-General to shape the future of this organization” – General Council Chair, David Walker of New Zealand.
Dr. Okonjo-Iweala said a key priority for her would be to work with members to quickly address the economic and health consequences brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I am honored to have been selected by WTO members as WTO Director-General. 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”Dr. Okonjo-Iweala
The General Council decision follows months of uncertainty that arose when the United States initially refused to join the consensus around Dr. Okonjo-Iweala and threw its support behind Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee of the Republic of Korea.
But following Ms. Yoo’s decision on 5th February 2021 to withdraw her candidacy, the administration of newly elected US President Joseph R. Biden Jr. dropped the US objection and announced instead that Washington extends its “strong support” to the candidacy of Dr. Okonjo-Iweala.
Amb. Walker extended his thanks to all eight of the candidates who participated in the selection process and particularly to Ms. Yoo “for her ongoing commitment to and support for the multilateral trading system and the WTO”.
The General Council agreed on 31st July 2020 that there would be three stages of consultations held over two months commencing September 7, 2020. During these confidential consultations, the field of candidates was narrowed from eight to five and then two.
On 28th October 2020, General Council Chair David Walker of New Zealand had informed members that based on consultations with all delegation’s Dr Okonjo-Iweala was best poised to attain consensus of the 164 WTO members and that she had the deepest and the broadest support among the membership. At that meeting, the United States was the only WTO member which said it could not join the consensus.
The process for selecting a new Director-General was triggered on 14th May 2020 when former Director-General Mr Roberto Azevêdo informed WTO members he would be stepping down from his post one year before the expiry of his mandate. He subsequently left office on 31st August 2020.
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