History has been made today, following the World Trade Organization General Council consensus to select Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria as the organization’s seventh Director-General.
Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is set to resume office on 1 March 2021, becoming the first Woman and African person to hold the position. Her term in office will expire on 31 August 2025 but is renewable.
The decision of the General Council comes after three months of uncertainty due to the Trump administration rejecting the consensus around the former Nigerian finance minister Dr. Okonjo-Iweala citing her lack of experience in International trade and threw its support behind Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee of the Republic of Korea. But following Ms. Yoo’s decision on Friday 5 February 2021 to withdraw her candidacy, the administration of newly elected US President Joseph R. Biden Jr. dropped the US objection and backed the candidacy of Dr. Okonjo-Iweala.
In his remarks the General Council Chair David Walker of New Zealand who, together with co-facilitators Amb. Dacio Castillo (Honduras) and Amb. Harald Aspelund (Iceland) that led the nine-month DG selection process said that it was an incredibly significant moment for the WTO. Congratulating the new DG, he said: “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,” he added.
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.
In her acceptance statements, she reiterated that a strong WTO was vital to fully recover and rapidly from the devastation wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Ngozi also informed the General Council that she looked forward to working with WTO members to shape and implement the policy responses needed 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.” She said.
Canada’s Honourable Mary Ng, Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion, and International Trade congratulated the newly appointed WTO Director-General. In a statement wrote: “An effective rules-based multilateral trading system, with the World Trade Organization (WTO) at its core, is essential to the global economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and for Canada’s future prosperity. Given the WTO’s global stature, strong leadership is required to bring together like-minded countries and make trade more efficient and beneficial for everyone.
“Canada congratulates Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala for her appointment as the new Director-General of the WTO. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has significant experience in international affairs: she provides leadership to the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations and has an exceptional background in addressing many of the world’s most pressing problems.”
The process for selecting a new Director-General was triggered on 14 May 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 31 August.