“The WTO is about people! It’s about decent work! Let us place its overarching purpose front and centre as a driver for all we seek to accomplish for the multilateral trading system. 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,” Dr Okonjo-Iweala said after her appointment on February 15th.
Her top priority will be to quickly address the economic and health consequences of the Covid pandemic and to “implement the policy responses we need to get the global economy going again”.
The WTO General Council’s decision to appoint Dr Okonjo-Iweala in the top job comes after months of uncertainty which arose when the United States refused to join the consensus of the WTO members around her and supported Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee of the Republic of Korea. An initial shortlist of eight candidates had been in the running, which was later narrowed to five and then the final two Myung-hee and Dr Okonjo-Iweala.
However, following Myung-hee's decision on February 5 to withdraw her candidacy, the administration of newly elected USPresident Joe Biden dropped the US objection and announced instead that Washington extends its "strong support" to the candidacy of Dr Okonjo-Iweala.
“It can’t be more of the same. It can’t be someone who just knows the issues and how the place works. We have tried that. Of all the challengers for the job, I have the right combination of skills. I am the woman for the job,” she said.
Tweeting after the announcement, she said, “It is done! Thank you to the WTO members for finalising my election today and making history. In the 73 years of GATT and WTO, I’m honoured to be the first woman and first African to lead. But now the real work begins. Ready to tackle the challenges of WTO. Forget Business as usual!”
For Nigerian women and women across the world, Dr Okonjo-Iweala has opened up a world of possibilities for women to rise to key leadership roles and achieve accomplishments by impact. She begins her role as DG of the WTO on March 1.
Dr Okonjo-Iweala has twice been a government minister in Nigeria (for Finance and Foreign Affairs); she had a 25-year career at the World Bank Group (where she rose through the ranks and became a Managing Director); she is a member of several boards including Standard Chartered Bank and Twitter and is the immediate past Chair of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI); she is a special envoy in the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 fight; and the Chair for the Centre for Global Development. She was also named the Forbes African of 2020.
She joins a host of Nigerians flying the country’s flag high and leading world institutions like: Chile Eboe-Osuji, the President of the International Criminal Court; Amina J Mohammed, the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations; and Dr Akinwunmi Adesina, the President of the Africa Development Bank.
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