WTO Chief Okonjo-Iweala Assumes Office

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala Assumes Office
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala Assumes Office

The World Trade Organization’s (WTO) first female and first African Director General, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, officially took office on Monday, ending a six-month “leaderless” period of the organization, after former chief Roberto Azevedo stepped down on Aug. 31, 2020, a year ahead of schedule.

“I am coming into one of the most important institutions in the world and we have a lot of work to do. I feel ready to go,” she said. On arrival at the WTO’s headquarters here, Okonjo-Iweala highlighted the importance of the organization.

Addressing the General Council on her first day in the post, Okonjo-Iweala pledged to “bring all my knowledge, passion, experience and persistence to the task at hand, reforming the organization and achieving results.”

On Feb. 15, WTO members agreed by consensus to appoint the former finance minister of Nigeria as the new director-general. Her term, which is renewable, will expire on Aug. 31, 2025.

Okonjo-Iweala, 66, has served as Nigeria’s finance minister twice and briefly acted as foreign minister. She has worked for the World Bank for 25 years, including as managing director for operations.

Also at Monday’s General Council meeting, WTO members decided that the organization’s 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) will take place “in the week of 29 November 2021” in Geneva. The meeting was originally scheduled to be held on June 8-11, 2020, in Kazakhstan’s capital, Nur-Sultan, but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The WTO’s Ministerial Conference, which is attended by trade ministers and other senior officials from the organization’s 164 member states, is the the organization’s highest decision-making body.

Okonjo-Iweala had said that the success of the MC12 is a “top priority” for all WTO members, underling that “we must reach agreement on some pressing issues and elaborate our work program for others.”

“Apart from the issues related to the pandemic, I hope that we finalize the fisheries subsidies negotiations, leaving MC12 as the venue to conclude on modalities for implementation,” she said.

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