Nigeria’s Okonjo-Iweala makes history as head of WTO

World Trade Organization (WTO) President Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala speaks during an interview in Potomac, Maryland.
Incoming Globe Trade Firm President (WTO) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala speaks through an interview with Reuters in Potomac, Maryland, U.S., February 15, 2021. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

February 16, 2021

By Emma Farge and Andrea Shalal

GENEVA/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A few months just after the Trump administration rejected her, former Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala acquired unanimous backing on Monday to come to be the very first lady and first African director-general of the Earth Trade Group.

A self-declared “doer” with a keep track of record of getting on seemingly intractable troubles, Okonjo-Iweala will have her do the job minimize out for her at the trade entire body, even with Donald Trump, who had threatened to pull the United States out of the organisation, no extended in the White Household.

As director-basic, a situation that wields constrained official ability, Okonjo-Iweala, 66, will will need to broker global trade talks in the facial area of persistent U.S.-China conflict react to pressure to reform trade regulations and counter protectionism heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“What it (the WTO) desires is somebody who has the capability to generate reform, who understands trade and who does not want to see small business as typical. And that is me,” she said on Monday.

Before she instructed Reuters in an interview that her top precedence would be to ensure the trade body does far more to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, calling the disparities in vaccine rates in between rich and bad international locations “unconscionable” and urging members to lift export limits on health care things.

She also expressed confidence that her priorities were being aligned with Washington’s.

“I think our interests and priorities are aligned. They want to convey the WTO back again to (its) objective,” she advised Reuters.

The U.S. delegate mentioned that Washington was dedicated to working carefully with her and would be a “constructive partner”.

China’s delegate pledged “full support” for her.

EU trade commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis reported he looked ahead to functioning carefully with her to push “much-necessary reform of the institution”.

A 25-yr veteran of the Globe Lender, the place she oversaw an $81 billion portfolio, Okonjo-Iweala ran versus 7 other candidates by espousing a belief in trade’s capacity to raise men and women out of poverty.

She studied advancement economics at Harvard following dealing with civil war in Nigeria as a teenager. She returned to the region in 2003 to serve as finance minister and backers level to her tricky-nose negotiating capabilities that aided seal a deal to cancel billions of bucks of Nigerian financial debt with the Paris Club of creditor nations in 2005.

“She provides stature, she delivers working experience, a community and a temperament of making an attempt to get points accomplished, which is quite a welcome large amount in my view,” former WTO main Pascal Lamy informed Reuters last week. “I think she’s a great selection.”

Essential to her good results will be her capacity to operate in the centre of a “U.S.-EU-China triangle”, he reported.

The endorsement of the Biden administration cleared the final obstacle to her appointment and she is because of to start out March 1.


Okonjo-Iweala, who goes by ‘Dr. Ngozi’, turns into one of the couple female heads of a key multilateral system. When she joins the WTO’s Geneva lakeside headquarters her portrait is established to be hung beside others of adult males, mainly white and from rich international locations.

The Trump administration’s most important criticism of her was that she lacked direct trade knowledge as opposed to her main South Korean rival and even supporters say she will have to promptly get up to velocity on the technicalities of trade negotiations.

She has rejected this, expressing that she has a great deal of expertise of trade, plus other know-how.

Asked about how she took the Trump rejection, she replied: “When factors take place you acquire them in your stride and transfer on”.

Raised by lecturers, the mom-of-four gained a status for really hard operate and modesty amid the pomp of Nigeria’s governing course, acquaintances say.

“She is persistent and stubborn,” reported Kingsley Moghalu, former deputy governor of Nigeria’s central financial institution who worked with her when she was the country’s very first female finance minister.

Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari welcomed her election, saying it introduced “more pleasure and honour to the country’.

Her appointment also was welcomed by individuals in the streets of Nigeria’s cash Abuja in which Ibe Pleasure, who will work in promoting, claimed Okonjo-Iweala’s achievements had been an inspiration to younger girls. “If she can do it, we all can do it,” said Pleasure.


The 26-yr-previous WTO that Okonjo-Iweala inherits immediately after a six-thirty day period management gap is partially paralysed, many thanks to the Trump administration which blocked appointments to its best appeals physique that acts as the world wide arbiter of trade disputes.

But even in advance of Trump, negotiators had struggled to clinch bargains that have to be agreed by consensus, with the United States and other produced WTO members arguing that creating nations around the world, notably China, can not cling on to exceptions and that rules want to modify to mirror China’s economic advancement.

Okonjo-Iweala, who is a unique envoy for the World Health Corporation on COVID-19 and, till a short while ago chair of the board of international vaccine alliance Gavi, mentioned on Monday she wished to build a framework on pandemic reaction “so that upcoming time we never squander time trying to figure out how to respond”.

WHO Director-Normal Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus termed Okonjo-Iweala the “WTO’s best chief”.

The WTO at this time faces deadlock around an difficulty of waiving intellectual property rights for COVID-19 medications, with several wealthy nations opposed.

Substantial on the to-do listing will also be fisheries subsidies, the matter of the WTO’s principal multilateral talks that missed a deadline to conclude by conclude-2020. She told journalists on Monday she assumed a offer on this was “within reach”.

Asked about the troubles ahead, she joked that a e book she wrote about repairing Nigeria’s damaged establishments could properly utilize to today’s WTO: ‘Reforming the Unreformable’.

“I sense I can solve the difficulties. I’m a recognized reformer, not someone who talks about it,” she instructed Reuters in an previously interview. “I’ve essentially completed it”.

(Reporting by Emma Farge in Geneva, Alexis Akwagyiram in Lagos and Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels, Abraham Achirga in Abuja, Jan Strupczewski in Brussels and Tom Daly Enhancing by Carmel Crimmins, Andrea Ricci, William Maclean)