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Okonjo-Iweala appointed WTO DG

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Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonlo- Iweala was appointed the seventh Director-General of the World Trade Organization on Monday, making her the first woman and the first African to head the multilateral trade body from March 1, 2021 to August 31, 2025.

“The decision was taken by consensus at a special meeting today of the organization’s General Council,” said an official.

Okonjo-Iweala is the former Finance Minister of Nigeria and World Bank economist.

The US, under the Donald Trump-administration, had blocked Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment in October despite strong endorsement from almost all WTO members including India.

However, the Joe Biden administration, extended the US’ support to Okonjo-Iweala earlier this month following which South Korea’s candidate-Yoo Myung-hee- withdrew from the race.

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.

“A strong WTO is vital if we are to recover fully and rapidly from the devastation wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic,” she said, adding that the WTO faces many challenges.

She takes charge at a time when developed countries have challenged the development agenda of the WTO such as special and differential treatment provisions and opposed an India-South Africa joint proposal for a temporary waiver of TRIPS obligations to ensure uninterrupted flow of vaccines to the developing and least developed countries.

The process for selecting a new Director-General was triggered on May 15 when former Director-General Roberto Azevêdo announced to step down from his post one year before the expiry of his mandate. He subsequently left office on August 31, 2020.

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