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WTO selects 1st woman, 1st African as chief
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 15 - 02 - 2021

Members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) made history on Monday when the General Council agreed by consensus to select Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria as the organization's seventh Director-General, the WTO said in an online statement.
When she takes office on March 1, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala will become the first woman and the first African to be chosen as Director-General. Her term, renewable, will expire on Aug. 31, 2025.
"This is a very significant moment for the WTO. On behalf of the General Council, I extend our warmest congratulations to Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on her appointment as the WTO's next Director-General and formally welcome her to this General Council meeting," said General Council Chair David Walker of New Zealand.
Walker, together with co-facilitators Amb. Dacio Castillo (Honduras) and Amb. Harald Aspelund (Iceland), led the nine-month DG selection process.
"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.
"I am honored to have been selected by WTO members as WTO Director-General," said Dr. Okonjo-Iweala.
"A strong WTO is vital if we are to recover fully and rapidly from the devastation wrought by the COVID-19 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 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."
The General Council decision follows months of uncertainty, which arose when the United States initially refused to join the consensus around Dr. Okonjo-Iweala and threw its support behind Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee of the Republic of Korea.
But following Yoo's decision on Feb. 5 to withdraw her candidacy, the administration of newly elected US President Joseph R. Biden Jr. dropped the US objection and announced instead that Washington extends its "strong support" to the candidacy of Dr. Okonjo-Iweala.
Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is the sfirst woman and the first African in the organization's 25-year history to have accomplished this. In fact, the United Nations itself — since its inception in 1945 — has never had a woman in the No. 1 spot.
Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has already made history in Nigeria by becoming the country's first woman finance minister (between 2003-2006 and 2011-2015) and by briefly serving as the foreign minister in 2006.
She is a seasoned economist and an international development expert; she has an economics degree from Harvard University and a PhD in Regional Economics and Development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
She also has worked at the World Bank for 25 years, rising to the No. 2 position of Managing Director in 2007, handling an $81 billion operational portfolio in Africa, South Asia, Europe, and Central Asia.
During her time there, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala was at the forefront of numerous initiatives to help poor countries. In 2010, she raised $ 50 billion from donors for the International Development Association (IDA), which is the World Bank's fund for the lowest income countries.
In an interview with South China Morning Post in August 2020, she said, "I come with a résumé that shows I've done reform... And those reforms were bold — they were courageous, if you allow me to say so." — Agencies


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