NEW DELHI: Members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) on Monday appointed Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the first woman and African head of the multilateral agency, signalling that the Geneva-based body may finally be open for business.
Okonjo-Iweala — a former Nigerian finance minister and who was also the World Bank’s MD of operations — was chosen by consensus after the Joe Biden administration decided to drop the US opposition to the new DG’s appointment, reversing Donald Trump’s obstructionist policies at WTO. The agency, which sets rules for global trade, had seen key appointments scuttled by the Trump administration although problems had started surfacing during the Obama regime itself.
India too has been backing the Harvard graduate, with a doctorate from MIT, with government sources optimistic that her appointment as the seventh WTO DG will be helpful for developing and least developed countries. Her stance on global rules for e-commerce and green economy are issues that India believes need not be discussed at the moment.
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 pandemic. She has been the African Union’s special envoy against the pandemic and has also been a board member of Gavi, the vaccine alliance.
“A strong WTO is vital if we are to recover fully and rapidly from the devastation wrought by the 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 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,” she said.
Her appointment, effective March 1, has also raised expectations of achieving a breakthrough in the talks to appoint new judges to the appellate body, which decides on appeals in trade dispute cases. The US has blocked the appointments, impacting the entire dispute settlement mechanism.