Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala makes history as the World Trade Organization’s first female and African head

Senior Nigerian economist Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has been appointed head of the World Trade Organization in Geneva.

She is the first African and the first woman to serve as director general of the organisation that is facing the deepest crisis since it was founded in 1995.

Envoys from the 164 WTO member states approved Ms Okonjo-Iweala on Monday by consensus, the free trade body announced.

The United States paved the way for the appointment in early February, when President Joe Biden threw his weight behind the candidate who had been blocked under his predecessor Donald Trump.

Ms Okonjo-Iweala previously served as Nigerian finance and foreign minister and as the managing director of the World Bank.

Most recently, she had chaired the board of GAVI, the public-private vaccine initiative that is leading international efforts to share COVID-19 vaccines fairly between rich and poor countries.

Ms Okonjo-Iweala takes on her new job as global trade is suffering from the pandemic crisis and from tensions between major economies.

Free trade talks have also been stalled for years.

“A strong WTO is vital if we are to recover fully and rapidly from the devastation wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic,” the 66-year-old economist said in a statement.

“I look forward to working with members to shape and implement the policy responses we need to get the global economy going again.

“Our organisation 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 US delegate to the WTO said on Monday he was “eager” to work with Ms Okonjo-Iweala.

“The United States is committed to working closely with Director General Okonjo-Iweala and she can count on the United States to be a constructive partner,” Charge d’Affaires David Bisbee said.

With AFP.

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