Dubai, United Arab Emirates (CNN) – Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala appointed Director-General of the World Trade Organization on Monday, becoming the first woman and the first African to head the World Trade Organization.
Okonjo-Iweala was appointed by the World Trade Organization after the last rival candidate, South Korean Trade Minister Yu Myung-hee, withdrew from the race. She will assume her position on March 1, for a term that runs until August 2025.
Okonjo-Iweala, a former Nigerian economist and finance minister, won broad support from WTO members including the European Union, China, Japan and Australia, while the United States, under the Trump administration, was leaning in favor of Yu.
The World Trade Organization was established in 1995 with the aim of promoting open trade for the benefit of all. Today, it works to negotiate and administer international trade rules and resolve disputes between its 164 members.
However, the organization has struggled to prevent trade disputes between member states, most notably the United States and China. The Geneva-based agency has been without a permanent director general since Roberto Azevedo stepped down a year earlier than planned.
Okonjo-Iweala acknowledged the need for reforms, saying in an interview with Christian Amanpour of CNN: “It is an exciting and exhausting feeling at the same time. I look forward to the challenge … Deep reforms are needed to reformulate and reposition the organization.”
Okonjo-Iweala said that intensifying global efforts to combat the Corona pandemic is also a priority, as she explained during the interview: “One of my most important priorities, which I am excited about, is how trade and the World Trade Organization can play a stronger role in providing solutions to the Corona epidemic, both at the health level. Or economic. “
Okonjo-Iweala said that while economic recovery depends on trade, solving public health challenges also requires “good trade.”
Okonjo-Iweala spent 25 years at the World Bank as a development economist and rose to the position of General Manager. She also chaired the board of directors of GAVI, which helps distribute coronavirus vaccines worldwide, as she stepped down at the end of her mandate in December.