IISD Welcomes Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the Next Head of the World Trade Organization
The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) welcomes the appointment of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the next Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), as confirmed by the organization’s General Council on February 15, 2021.
Okonjo-Iweala will be the first woman and the first African to serve as the head of the global trade body. This is an important milestone for the institution, providing a powerful political signal on gender equality and on the invaluable role that African economies play in the multilateral trading system.
The incoming WTO chief brings a wide skill set and resume to the role, which may be especially suited to the challenges of our time. A Ph.D.-level economist, her credentials bring together a blend of practical and political experience in development, finance, public health, disaster risk management, and foreign affairs. Her past roles include managing director at the World Bank, finance minister and foreign affairs minister for the Nigerian government, board chair of Gavi, and chairperson of the Governing Board of African Risk Capacity.
As Okonjo-Iweala takes office for her first four-year term, she will face a series of early challenges that will require that WTO members take swift action, such as concluding negotiations for a deal disciplining harmful fisheries subsidies and adopting a decision to exempt humanitarian food aid provided by the UN’s World Food Programme from export restrictions. She will also need to work with them to make tangible progress in tackling many longer-term objectives that are important both for the multilateral trading system and for its objective of supporting sustainable development.
Given that the ongoing pandemic has pushed back the date of the next WTO Ministerial Conference indefinitely, Okonjo-Iweala will be able to grasp the chance to work closely with members in Geneva and other stakeholders to inspire new ideas and reinvigorate the day-to-day activity underway at WTO headquarters. The members, in turn, can provide her with the political backing and flexibility to move the organization into a post-COVID reality, with sustainable development at its core.
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