The World Trade Organization (WTO) has a new head. In Geneva, the Nigerian Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has been appointed as the organization’s new director general.
The council of 164 member countries unanimously appointed her to the top post. She is scheduled to take office on March 1st.
Okonjo-Iweala had already prevailed against several competitors last year.
The way for the 66-year-old Okonjo-Iweala was only cleared after a long argument and after the inauguration of US President Joe Biden.
The USA was the only country to block their appointment in October, and only the new US administration lifted the resistance.
“I look forward to implementing measures with the member countries to get the global economy going again,” said Okonjo-Iweala after the appointment. “Our organization faces many challenges, but if we work together we can make the WTO stronger and more agile together and better adapt it to current realities.”
Previous head of the international vaccination alliance
The US had favored the South Korean Yoo Myung Hee for the post. After she withdrew her application, the EU’s preferred Okonjo-Iweala was the only remaining candidate.
The previous WTO Director General Roberto Azevêdo resigned his post prematurely last August after seven years at the head of the organization for family reasons.
Okonjo-Iweala is the first woman and the first African to take the post. She was with the World Bank for a total of 25 years, as well as twice finance minister in her home country and briefly foreign minister. She is considered to be assertive and a good mediator who can initiate compromises. She studied economics and development economics at the elite universities of Harvard and MIT in the USA, where she did her PhD.
Okonjo-Iweala is also very respected in her native Nigeria. She is considered one of the most successful members of the government since she negotiated a $ 30 billion debt relief with rich countries in 2005. She is also considered to be the architect of better management of oil revenues, the largest chunk of government budget financing. In the WTO, one of its most important tasks will be to reform the organization that has recently come under pressure.
The President of the Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW), Gabriel Felbermayr, said that in times of the pandemic, Okonjo-Iweala, as the previous head of the international vaccination alliance Gavi, was a very good choice. She will promote cooperation between the WTO and the World Health Organization.
The WTO is in its greatest crisis since it was founded in 1995, partly because political tensions and increasing protectionism are slowing down world trade. In addition, there was the conflict with the old US administration over the appointment of new judges for the arbitration tribunal of the WTO, which decides on international disputes.
The body was therefore unable to act.
The transatlantic coordinator of the federal government, Peter Beyer, called on Europe and the USA under the new president Joe Biden to draw up a “common roadmap” for a WTO reform.
The WTO, headquartered in Geneva, is one of the most important international organizations in economic policy with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. Above all, it is intended to provide a forum for negotiations on the dismantling of tariffs and other trade barriers and to monitor whether international trade agreements are being observed.