WTO Chief, Okonjo-Iweala resumes duty


Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has resumed duty as the first female director general of the World Trade Organization in Geneva Switzerland.

The appointment of Okonjo-Iweala was ratified on February 15 making her the first African to lead WTO.

The former Nigerian finance and foreign minister has said she was eager to get straight to work 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.”

The 66-year-old Nigerian former finance minister takes the helm after the WTO was left adrift for seven months following the sudden departure of Brazilian career diplomat Roberto Azevedo last August, a year ahead of schedule.

From an initial eight candidates, she 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.

President Joe Biden subsequently endorsed the Nigerian for the position, with the US Trade Representative praising her “wealth of knowledge in economics and international diplomacy”.

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

Delegates are expected to agree that the organization’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.

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The question remains whether the new WTO chief, considered a strong-willed trailblazer, will be able to mould the organization in her image before then.

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

One of her first tasks will be to nominate four new deputy directors to help recharge the organization’s negotiating mechanisms.