Okonjo-Iweala, Biden Listed Among Time’s 100 Most Influential People

A file photo of the WTO DG, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

 

The Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has been named in Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People for 2021. 

Okonjo-Iweala made the list  – released on Wednesday – alongside US President Joe Biden, Angelique Kidjo, and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry and Meghan.

The list recognises “people whose ideas, example, talent, or discoveries transform the world we live in”.

She was named in the leaders category alongside US Vice President, Kamala Harris; Chinese President, Xi Jinping, and India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.

Others who also made Time’s list include Naomi Osaka, Britney Spears, Donald Trump, and Elon Musk.

READ ALSO: WTO Working To Boost Vaccine Production In Africa – Okonjo-Iweala

Photo: Nhu Xuan Hua for TIME

 

“As we face a constant barrage of vaccine misinformation, bureaucratic slowdowns across both government and industry, and the rise of variants that underscore the urgency of the situation, Okonjo-Iweala has shown us that to end the pandemic, we must work together to equip every nation with equitable vaccine access,” Prince Harry and Meghan wrote about Nigeria’s former Minister of Finance. 

“Our conversations with her have been as informative as they are energizing. This is partly because, despite the challenges, she knows how to get things done—even between those who don’t always agree—and does so with grace and a smile that warms the coldest of rooms.”

The couple explained that with about a quarter of the world vaccinated against COVID-19 and the globe experiencing fragility at the moment, achieving vaccine equity is a “global duty of compassion for one another.

“Our hope is that guided by strong leaders like Ngozi, we can get there soon.”

Okonjo-Iwela, who hails from Delta State, served as Nigeria’s finance minister, first under President Olusegun Obasanjo’s government – from 2003 to 2006 – and later in President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration between 2011-2015

Earlier in the year – March – she emerged as the first woman and African to lead the WTO, a landmark development that has continued to earn her accolades globally. 

 

 

WTO Working To Boost Vaccine Production In Africa – Okonjo-Iweala

A file photo of former Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okono-Iweala.
A file photo of former Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okono-Iweala.

 

The Director-General of the World Trade Organisation, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has said talks are in motion to persuade vaccine companies to invest more in Africa.

She made the comment while speaking virtually at the annual National Diaspora Day celebration in Abuja on Sunday.

According to the WTO chief, manufacture of vaccines on the continent will reduce vaccination inequality, made more stark by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite rising cases in Africa, many countries have struggled to secure vaccines for their population.

According to the World Health Organisation, only about 1.5% of the population on the continent is fully vaccinated. In countries like the US, the number is well over 50 percent.

Dr Okonjo-Iweala, who used to sit on the board of Gavi, the global vaccine alliance, said attempts have been made to bring the CEOS of “major manufacturing companies from Moderna to Pfizer to AstraZeneca, J&J” to the table.

Meanwhile, she also called for the implementation of Diaspora voting in future Nigerian elections.

Tariffs: Australia To Take Wine Dispute With China Before WTO

PHOTO USED TO ILLUSTRATE THE STORY: NICOLAS ARMER /DPA PICTURE-ALLIANCE VIA AFP

 

Australia will take China before the World Trade Organization over Beijing’s imposition of crippling tariffs on Australian wine exports, it announced Saturday, in the latest sign of worsening tensions between the two countries.

The decision “to defend Australia’s winemakers” comes six months after Australia lodged a separate protest at the WTO over tariffs on Australian barley and is in line with the government’s “support for the rules-based trading system”, it said in a statement.

It added, however, that “Australia remains open to engaging directly with China to resolve this issue”.

It is the latest incident in an escalating tussle between Australia and its largest trading partner and follows warnings by Prime Minister Scott Morrison that his government would respond forcefully to countries trying to use “economic coercion” against it.

READ ALSO: WHO Declares An End To Second Ebola Outbreak In Guinea

China in November slapped tariffs of up to 218 percent on Australian wines, which it said were being “dumped” into the Chinese market at subsidised prices.

The crackdown virtually closed what had been Australia’s biggest overseas wine market, with sales falling from Aus$1.1 billion (US$ 840 million) to just Aus$20 million, according to official figures.

“The actions taken by the Chinese government have caused serious harm to the Australian wine industry,” Trade Minister Dan Tehan said at a press conference announcing the decision to lodge a formal dispute with the WTO.

“We would love to be able to sit down and be able to resolve these disputes” directly with the Chinese, he said, but added that lower-level official contacts had failed to make progress.

“We will use every other mechanism to try and resolve this dispute and other disputes that we have with the Chinese government,” he said.

Tehan acknowledged that the dispute process within the WTO was difficult and estimated it would take two to four years for any resolution.

 

– ‘Coercive behaviour’ –

Beijing has imposed tough economic sanctions on a range of Australian products in recent months, ranging from high tariffs to disruptive practices across several agricultural sectors, coal, wine and tourism.

The measures are widely seen in Australia as punishment for pushing back against Beijing’s operations to impose influence in Australia, rejecting Chinese investment in sensitive areas and publicly calling for an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.

Saturday’s move came just a week after a summit of the G7 grouping of advanced economies echoed Australia’s call for a tougher stand against China’s trade practices and its more assertive stance globally.

The G7 summit ended on June 12 with the announcement of US-led plans to counter China’s trillion-dollar “Belt and Road Initiative”, the hallmark of its efforts to extend economic influence around the world.

The grouping promised hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure investment for low- and middle-income countries in a “Build Back Better World” (B3W) project.

The B3W was seen as aimed squarely at competing with China’s efforts, which has been widely criticised for saddling small countries with unmanageable debt.

Morrison attended the summit as part of a G7 plus formula that also brought in the leaders of South Korea, South Africa and India, and made clear he would push the other nations for joint action against China’s aggressive trade policies.

“The most practical way to address economic coercion is the restoration of the global trading body’s binding dispute-settlement system,” he said in a speech just ahead of the summit.

“Where there are no consequences for coercive behaviour, there is little incentive for restraint,” he said.

Morrison has received explicit backing in his government’s confrontation with China from the US as well as from French President Emmanuel Macron during a visit to Paris following the G7 meeting.

AFP

WTO Okonjo-Iweala Appoints Two Women To Deputy Leadership Role

 

File Photo of World Trade Organization

 

World Trade Organization head Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on Tuesday named two women to the WTO’s four deputy leader jobs for the first time in its history.

The new director-general — herself the first woman and the first African to lead the WTO — appointed of the United States and Costa Rica’s Anabel Gonzalez, along with Jean-Marie Paugam of France and China’s Zhang Xiangchen.

The WTO has counted one woman deputy director-general previously, but Okonjo-Iweala stressed that this was “the first time in the history of our organisation that half of the DDGs are women.”

“This underscores my commitment to strengthening our organisation with talented leaders whilst at the same time achieving gender balance in senior positions,” said the WTO chief, who took office on March 1.

“I look forward to welcoming them to the WTO.”

In making the appointments, Nigeria’s former finance and foreign minister maintained the previous balance of one deputy from China, one from the United States, one from the European Union and one from a developing country elsewhere.

The new DDGs replace Yonov Frederick Agah of Nigeria,  Karl Brauner of Germany, Alan Wolff of the United States and Yi Xiaozhun of China.

The deputies each take charge of four or five fields at the Geneva-based global trade body, such as legal affairs, market access, development, agriculture and commodities, and intellectual property.

Ellard has served at the US Congress as majority and minority chief trade counsel.

Gonzalez is a former foreign trade minister who also served as a senior director at the World Bank and as director of the agriculture and commodities division at the WTO.

Paugam was France’s permanent representative at the WTO and has held senior positions in the French economy and finance ministry.

Zhang is a vice minister in China’s Ministry of Commerce who was recently Beijing’s permanent representative to the WTO.

The organisation is holding a meeting of its general council on Wednesday and Thursday. The council is the WTO’s highest-level decision-making body in Geneva, featuring representatives from all 164 member states.

WTO DG Okonjo-Iweala Meets With President Buhari

President Muhammadu Buhari receives Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala at the State House in Abuja on March 15, 2021.

 

The Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, on Monday met with President Muhammadu Buhari.

She was led to the meeting with the President by his Chief of Staff, Professor Ibrahim Gambari, in company with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, as well as the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Niyi Adebayo.

The Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele, was also among those who attended the meeting.

The Personal Assistant to the President on New Media, Bashir Ahmad, also announced her arrival at the Presidential Villa in a tweet.

 

Okonjo-Iweala, 66, was nominated as Nigeria’s candidate to lead the WTO by President Buhari in June 2020.

She emerged as the first woman and first African to lead the international body in February 2021, while her term began on March 1 and would last until the next four years.

The term, which is renewable, will expire on August 31, 2025.

Highpoints of the meeting are captured in the pictures below:

 

Previous Meetings

Before the meeting with President Buhari, Okonjo-Iweala had held separate discussions with the two ministers.

In her remarks, the WTO chief promised that the organisation would support Nigeria with capacity building and entrepreneurial products, especially at a time when the country has to diversify from oil.

She added that the organisation would work with other international organisations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank to help Nigeria solve its deficits which she said were affecting its infrastructure.

Okonjo-Iweala, who arrived in Nigeria on Saturday in her first visit to the country since she assumed office as the director-general of the global body, said she felt excited about her homecoming.

She stated that the WTO was also set to support job creation among youths and encourage women entrepreneurs.

According to the former Minister of Finance, the organisation is already negotiating several agreements on e-commerce.

Mr Adebayo also shared photos of the meeting with the WTO chief on Twitter.

Okonjo-Iweala’s Visit To Nigeria As WTO Director-General In Photos

Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala visits Nigeria on March 13, 2021 – the first since she took over the WTO leadership. Channels TV/ Sodiq Adelakun.

 

The Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, on Saturday visited Nigeria for the first since she assumed office.

She was welcomed to the country by the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, Nasir Sani-Gwarzo, and other government officials in Abuja.

Okonjo-Iweala told reporters that her visit to Nigeria was to show appreciation to President Muhammadu Buhari for the support accorded her.

She said she was also in the country for discussions on how Nigeria can leverage her position to benefit from trans-national trade, among others.

The highlights of her visit her captured in the pictures below:

Okonjo-Iweala Makes First Visit To Nigeria As WTO Director-General

The Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, is welcomed by some government officials shortly after arriving in Nigeria on March 13, 2021. Channels TV/ Sodiq Adelakun.

 

The Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has made her first visit to Nigeria since she assumed office.

She was received upon her arrival in the country on Saturday by the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, Nasir Sani-Gwarzo.

Okonjo-Iweala told reporters in Abuja, the nation’s capital that her visit to Nigeria was to show appreciation to President Muhammadu Buhari for the support accorded her.

She also hinted that discussion on how Nigeria can leverage her position to benefit from trans-national trade formed part of her visit to the country.

In this photo taken on March 13, 2021, the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, is seen with a girl and others shortly after arriving in Nigeria. Channels TV/ Sodiq Adelakun.

 

Okonjo-Iweala’s visit to Nigeria comes about a month after she was confirmed as the Director-General of the global trade organisation.

As the first woman and first African to lead the international body, her term began on March 1 and would last until the next four years.

The term, which is renewable, will expire on August 31, 2025.

In the journey to become the director-general of the WTO, Okonjo-Iweala had the backing of the majority of the member-countries of the organisation.

She, however, vied for the job with the Republic of Korea’s Trade Minister, Yoo Myung-hee, who enjoyed the support of former United States President Donald Trump to become the WTO DG.

The Korean minister later announced on February 5 that she was abandoning her bid to lead the international trade body, leading to Okonjo-Iweala’s emergence as the sole candidate for the job.

Following the withdrawal, the U.S. government through its Trade Representative expressed its “strong support” for the candidacy of Okonjo-Iweala as the Director-General of the WTO.

Okonjo-Iweala, 66, was nominated as Nigeria’s candidate to lead the WTO by President Muhammadu Buhari in June 2020.

She is a Nigerian-American economist and international development expert who has a 25-year career at the World Bank, scaling the ranks to the second top position of Managing Director, Operations.

The Delta State-born economist served two terms as the minister of finance under former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan respectively.

See more photos of Okonjo-Iweala’s visit to Nigeria below:

‘The Headline Was Inappropriate,’ Swiss Newspaper Apologises Over Racist Remark On Okonjo-Iweala

A file photo of WTO DG Ngozi Okono-Iweala.

 

The Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on Monday received an apology from a Swiss newspaper over a headline which dismissed her experience as an economist and Nigerian politician.

The Swiss newspaper in the headline of an article published on February 9 said ‘This grandmother will be the new chief of the World Trade Organisation.’

This sparked an outcry from many who described the headline as ‘racist and sexist.’

The newspaper later apologised in a communique describing the headline as inappropriate.

“In our editorial office, we gave the article about the new head of the World Trade Organisation the headline >>This grandmother will be the new chief of the World Trade Organisation.

“This headline was inappropriate and unsuitable. The title sparked angry reactions from readers. We apologise for this editorial mistake,” Samuel Schumacher, Foreign Editor-In-Chief az Nordweatschweiz/Schweiz am Wochenende said.

Iweala, the first female and first African to lead the WTO in her Tweet on Monday accepted the apology and said it is important and timely they apologised.

“I’m thankful to all my sisters, UN Women Leaders and the 124 Ambassadors in Geneva who signed the petition on calling out the racist & sexist remarks in this newspaper. It is important & timely that they’ve apologized.

“It is important & timely that they’ve apologised,” Okonjo-Iweala said in a tweet.

 

The development economist took over as the new WTO chief on Monday after a long, high-powered career serving as minister of finance and foreign affairs in  Nigeria and 25 years at the World Bank.

‘Ready To Go’: Okonjo-Iweala Says As She Takes WTO Reins

New Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala removes her face mask as she arrives at the WTO headquarters to take office on March 1, 2021 in Geneva. Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP / POOL

 

Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has officially resumed as Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

As she took up the new role on Monday, the former Nigerian finance and foreign minister said she was eager to get straight to work as the first woman and first African to lead the beleaguered World Trade Organization.

“I am coming into one of the most important institutions in the world and we have a lot of work to do,” Iweala said as she arrived for her first day on the job in Geneva.

“I feel ready to go.”

Hopes abound that the 66-year-old will be able to help the WTO address a range of towering challenges, including navigating through the global economic crisis triggered by the pandemic.

“The WTO is too important to allow it to be slowed down, paralysed and moribund,” she told AFP a day after her nomination last month.

 

 

Known as Dr. Ngozi, she is taking the helm after the WTO was left adrift for six months following the sudden departure of Brazilian career diplomat Roberto Azevedo last August, a year ahead of schedule.

Following a lengthy selection process, Ngozi, a development economist who spent 25 years at the World Bank, was finally anointed by the WTO’s 164 members on February 15.

From an initial eight candidates, Ngozi was the clear favourite among the last two standing in November. However, her appointment was delayed by former US president Donald Trump blocking her nomination.

The arrival of his successor Joe Biden made it possible for her to receive the consensus backing required to end the impasse.

 

In At The Deep End

Ngozi is hitting the ground running, with her first day on the job in Geneva coinciding with the annual meeting of the WTO’s General Council.

“I am hoping to be able to listen in and see what delegations have to say, what ambassadors have to say, about the key issues,” she told journalists about her expectations for her first day.

Delegates are expected to agree that the organisation’s next ministerial conference, which had been scheduled for last year but was postponed due to the pandemic, will be held in Geneva in December.

Questions remain as to whether the new WTO chief, considered a strong-willed trailblazer, will be able to mould the organisation in her image before then.

While some observers voice hope that Ngozi will inject much-needed energy, others stress she has little wiggle room to make dramatic changes, given that WTO decisions are made by member states — and only when they can reach consensus.

Ngozi has said she is keen to push long-blocked trade talks on fishery subsidies across the finish line in time for the ministerial conference, but with negotiations dragging on, that could be a tough sell.

And in the midst of a global economic crisis, she has plenty of other challenges on her plate.

She has voiced particular concern about growing protectionism and nationalism during the coronavirus crisis and insists that trade barriers must be lowered to help the world recover.

 

New Director-General of the World Trade Organisation Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (C) poses for pictures with WTO Deputy Directors-General Alan Wolff (L) and Karl Brauner upon her arrival at the WTO headquarters to take office on March 1, 2021 in Geneva. Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP / POOL

 

Vaccines IP Wrangle

Among the issues to be discussed Monday is a controversial push for the WTO to waive intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines.

Dozens of nations say this would help boost production and access and would rein in the pandemic sooner, but the notion has been fiercely rejected by pharmaceutical giants and the countries that host them.

Ngozi chaired the Gavi vaccine alliance before running for the WTO and has made tackling the pandemic one of her priorities.

In a likely bid to avoid a row on day one, Ngozi has called for flexibility, encouraging voluntary licensing agreements, such as the one agreed between AstraZeneca and the Serum Institute of India, whereby the SII factory manufactures the pharmaceutical giant’s Covid-19 vaccines.

The Ottawa Group, which brings together the EU and 12 countries including Brazil, Canada and Switzerland, will meanwhile demand that countries commit not to hindering the flow of medical goods during the pandemic, and removing customs duties on those considered essential.

Another daunting challenge facing the new director-general will be following through on her vow to breathe life back into the appeals branch of the WTO’s dispute settlement system.

The Appellate Body, sometimes called the supreme court of world trade, ground to a halt in December 2019 after years of relentless US opposition.

The United States, along with European countries and Canada, also want an overhaul at the WTO, believing it has not responded correctly to the trade distortions caused by China.

Wike Congratulates Okonjo-Iweala As WTO Director-General

Nigeria's Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala poses at her home in Potomac, Maryland, near Washington DC, minutes before she was confirmed as the first woman and first African leader of the beleaguered World Trade Organization,on February 15, 2021. Eric BARADAT / AFP
Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala poses at her home in Potomac, Maryland, near Washington DC, minutes before she was confirmed as the first woman and first African leader of the beleaguered World Trade Organization, on February 15, 2021. Eric BARADAT / AFP

 

Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, says the world has entered a new epoch with the appointment of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Governor Wike, in a statement signed by his Special Assistant on Media, Kelvin Ebiri, said the appointment of Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, a one-time Minister of Finance and Chairman of President Goodluck Jonathan Economic Team to lead the WTO, is a beacon of hope for Nigeria.

The Rivers State governor said he is confident that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, who has distinguished herself as a renowned economist and contributed to the economic successes of many nations, will usher in a new era in the WTO.

He stated the new Director-General of the WTO throughout her career both at the World Bank and as Nigeria’s Minister of Finance, had consistently demonstrated an exceptional taste for transparency, and passion for equity.

“Having served in the Federal Executive Council with Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, I am confident that she will remain committed to her principles of transparency, accountability, and equity, which the world is yearning for.

“On behalf of the Government and people of Rivers State, I also take this opportunity to extend our heartfelt congratulations to you as a beacon of hope for our dear nation.

History As WTO Confirms Okonjo-Iweala As Director-General

A file photo of former Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okono-Iweala.

 

Nigeria’s former Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on Monday was confirmed as the next Director-General of the World Trade Organisation.

She is the first woman and the first African to lead the international trade body.

Her term is scheduled to start on March 1.

The term, which is renewable, will expire on August 31, 2025.

“This is a very significant moment for the WTO,” said General Council Chair David Walker of New Zealand who, together with co-facilitators Amb. Dacio Castillo (Honduras) and Amb. Harald Aspelund (Iceland) led the nine-month DG selection process.

“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.

“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.”

Quoted in a WTO statement, 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 honoured to have been selected by WTO members as WTO Director-General,” she said.

“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.”

South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee had been the only other remaining contender for the post but pulled out when it became clear that new US President Joe Biden was swinging firmly behind Okonjo-Iweala’s candidacy.

The organisation has been leaderless since Brazilian career diplomat Roberto Azevedo stepped down last August, a year ahead of schedule.

The process of picking one of eight candidates to succeed him had been expected to wrap up by November, but the administration of former US President Donald Trump blocked the consensus to appoint Okonjo-Iweala.

‘Reform candidate’

Okonjo-Iweala, who boasted US, EU and African backing, was not at the WTO’s Geneva headquarters for Monday’s meeting, but was scheduled to hold an online press conference after its conclusion.

She will take over an organisation mired in multiple crises and struggling to help member states navigate the severe global economic slump triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.

Okonjo-Iweala argued during the race that she was best placed out of the eight candidates for the post to steer the WTO through the crises, calling herself a reform candidate.

She warned that growing protectionism and nationalism had been spurred on by the pandemic and insisted barriers needed to be lowered to help the world recover.

Even before Covid-19 battered the global economy, the WTO was weighed down by stalled trade talks and struggled to curb trade tensions between the United States and China.

The WTO also faced relentless attacks from Washington under Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump. Among other things, Trump brought the WTO’s dispute settlement appeal system to a grinding halt in late 2019.

‘Boldness, courage’

Okonjo-Iweala has said her priorities include getting long-blocked trade talks on fishery subsidies across the finish line and breathing life back into WTO’s Appellate Body.

Twice Nigeria’s finance minister (2003-2006 and 2011-2015) and its first female foreign minister in a two-month stint in 2006, Okonjo-Iweala is seen as a trailblazer in her homeland.

She has brushed off claims she lacks experience as a trade minister or negotiator.

She has portrayed herself as a champion against Nigeria’s rampant corruption — saying her own mother was even kidnapped over her attempts to tackle the scourge.

But her critics argue she should have done more to tackle it while in power.

A development economist by training with degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard, Okonjo-Iweala has also had a 25-year career as a development economist at the World Bank, eventually becoming its number two.

She is on the Twitter board of directors and chaired Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

Okonjo-Iweala To Be Confirmed As WTO Boss Today

A file photo of former Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okono-Iweala.

 

Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala looks set to be confirmed Monday as the first woman and first African leader of the beleaguered World Trade Organization, a near-paralysed institution desperately needing a kick-start.

The WTO has called a special general council meeting at which the former Nigerian finance minister and World Bank veteran is expected to be formally selected as the global trade body’s new director-general.

US President Joe Biden strongly swung behind her candidacy shortly after the only other remaining contender, South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee, pulled out.

READ ALSO: Okonjo-Iweala Thanks Nigerians, Buhari, U.S. For Support

“I look forward to finalising the process,” Okonjo-Iweala said on February 6 after securing the Biden administration’s support.

The organisation is also eager to conclude the drawn-out process, having been leaderless since Brazilian career diplomat Roberto Azevedo stepped down last August, a year ahead of schedule.

The process of picking one of eight candidates to succeed him had been expected to wrap up by November, but the administration of former US president Donald Trump blocked the consensus to appoint Okonjo-Iweala.

‘Reform candidate’

The 66-year-old will not be at the WTO’s Geneva headquarters for Monday’s virtual session and it is not known when she would take up her duties.

The 164-member organisation’s special session gets under way at 1400 GMT and Okonjo-Iweala is scheduled to hold an online press conference two hours later.

The WTO picks its leaders through consensus-finding, so even though she is the only candidate still in the race — boasting US, EU and African backing — there is always the chance of a spanner being thrown in the works.

She will take over an organisation mired in multiple crises and struggling to help member states navigate the severe global economic slump triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.

Okonjo-Iweala will be the first woman and first African to be Director-General of the WTO

 

Okonjo-Iweala argued during the race that she was best placed out of the eight candidates for the post to steer the WTO through the crises.

“I am a reform candidate,” she insisted.

She has among other things warned that growing protectionism and nationalism have been spurred on by the pandemic and insists barriers need to be lowered to help the world recover.

Even before Covid-19 battered the global economy, the WTO was weighed down by stalled trade talks and struggled to curb trade tensions between the United States and China.

The WTO also faced relentless attacks from Washington under Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump. Among other things, Trump brought the WTO’s dispute settlement appeal system to a grinding halt in late 2019.

‘Boldness, courage’

Okonjo-Iweala has said her priorities include getting long-blocked trade talks on fishery subsidies across the finish line and breathing life back into WTO’s Appellate Body.

Twice Nigeria’s finance minister (2003-2006 and 2011-2015) and its first female foreign minister in a two-month stint in 2006, Okonjo-Iweala is seen as a trailblazer in her west African homeland.

She has brushed off claims she lacks experience as a trade minister or negotiator, insisting that what is needed to lead the WTO is not technical skills but “boldness, courage”.

She has portrayed herself as a champion against Nigeria’s rampant corruption — saying her own mother was even kidnapped over her attempts to tackle the scourge.

But her critics argue she should have done more to tackle it while in power.

A development economist by training with degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard, Okonjo-Iweala has also had a 25-year career as a development economist at the World Bank, eventually becoming its number two.

She is on the Twitter board of directors and chaired Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.