Okonjo-Iweala will take office on 1 March, and her term, which is renewable, will expire on 31 August 2025.
She indicated she will work with members to address the economic and health consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Okonjo-Iweala stressed the need to ensure that the WTO supports the green and circular economy and addresses the nexus between trade and climate change.
The General Council of the World Trade Organization (WTO) agreed by consensus to select Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Nigeria) as the seventh Director-General of the global trade club. Okonjo-Iweala will become the first woman and the first African to lead the Organization.
Okonjo-Iweala will take office on 1 March, and her term, renewable, will expire on 31 August 2025.
The 15 February 2021 decision comes after “months of uncertainty,” which followed the US’ initial refusal to join the consensus around Okonjo-Iweala. Initially, the US supported Yoo Myung-hee (Republic of Korea). On 5 February, Yoo Myung-hee announced her withdrawal from the race and the Office of the US Trade Representative extended “strong support” to Okonjo-Iweala’s candidacy.
Addressing members during the special session of the WTO General Council, General Council Chair David Walker (New Zealand) welcomed Okonjo-Iweala, and offered thanks to the eight candidates who participated in the selection process to become the WTO’s next Director-General.
We can restore and rebrand the WTO as an instrument for inclusive economic growth and sustainable development.
In her statement to the Council, Okonjo-Iweala said the WTO “faces a great many challenges but working together we can collectively make [it] stronger, more agile and better adapted to the realities of today.” She indicated she will work with members to address the economic and health consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic by, inter alia,
- Ensuring “a more forceful role” for the WTO’s monitoring function and encouraging members to minimize or remove export restrictions and prohibitions that hinder supply chains for medical goods and equipment;
- Rejecting vaccine nationalism and protectionism by facilitating arrangements that will get affordable vaccines quickly to poor countries; and
- Beyond the pandemic, strengthening cooperation between the WTO and other multilateral and bilateral partners, the private sector, and civil society “to set a framework for dealing with problems of the global commons.”
Okonjo-Iweala pledged to “restore and rebrand the WTO as a key pillar of global economic governance” and “an instrument for inclusive economic growth and sustainable development.” She stressed the need to ensure that the WTO supports the green and circular economy and addresses the nexus between trade and climate change.
Okonjo-Iweala looked forward to a successful 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12), a “robust agreement” on fisheries subsidies “to fully fulfill SDG 14.6,” and a dispute settlement system that would “garner the confidence of all,” including small developing states and least developed countries (LDCs).
The Director-General selection process was triggered on 14 May 2020 when former Director-General Roberto Azevêdo (Brazil) announced he would step down from his post on 31 August. On 31 July, the General Council agreed there would be three stages of consultations held over a two-month period starting 7 September. During these consultations, the field of candidates was reduced from eight to five and then from five to two. On 28 October, Walker informed members that based on the outcome of consultations, Okonjo-Iweala was “best poised to attain consensus” of the 164 WTO members to become the Organization’s next leader. At the time, the US was the only WTO member not to join the consensus. [WTO Press Release]