By Peter Egwuatu, Yinka Kolawole, Johnbosco Agbakwuru, Levinus Nwabughiogu , Festus Ahon , Levinus Nwabughiogu-&Tordue Salem
After nearly six months without a leader, the World Trade Organisation, WTO, has announced the appointment of Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the organization’s 7th Director-General with effect from March 1, 2021, making her the first woman and the first African to lead the global trade bloc.
This is coming three months after the Trump administration of US rejected the former Nigerian finance minister. Her term, which is renewable, will expire on August 31, 2025.
In a statement announcing the appointment, WTO’s General Council Chair, Amb. David Walker of New Zealand said: “This is a very significant moment for the WTO. On behalf of the General Council, I extend our warmest congratulations to Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on her appointment as the WTO’s next Director-General and formally welcome her to this General Council meeting.”
“On behalf of all members I wish to sincerely thank you for your graciousness in these exceptional months, and for your patience. We look forward to collaborating closely with you, and I am certain that all members will work with you constructively during your tenure as Director-General to shape the future of this organization.
Walker who, together with co-facilitators Amb. Dacio Castillo (Honduras) and Amb. Harald Aspelund (Iceland) led the nine-month DG selection process, extended his thanks to all eight of the candidates who participated in the selection process and particularly to Yoo “for her ongoing commitment to and support for the multilateral trading system and for the WTO”.
Responding, Okonjo-Iweala said a key priority for her would be to work with members to quickly address the economic and health consequences brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
She stated: “I am honoured to have been selected by WTO members as WTO Director-General. A strong WTO is vital if we are to recover fully and rapidly from the devastation wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic. I look forward to working with members to shape and implement the policy responses we need to get the global economy going again. Our organization faces a great many challenges but working together we can collectively make the WTO stronger, more agile and better adapted to the realities of today.”
The General Council decision follows months of uncertainty which arose when the United States initially refused to join the consensus around Okonjo-Iweala and threw its support behind South Korea’s Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee. But following Yoo’s decision to withdraw her candidacy on 5th February, the administration of newly elected US President Joe Biden dropped US objection and announced instead that Washington extends its “strong support” to the candidacy of Okonjo-Iweala.
Buhari congratulates Okonjo-Iweala
Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari has felicitated with former Minister of Finance and Economy, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on her election as Director General of the World Trade Organisation, WTO.
This was contained in a statement issued by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu in Abuja.
According to the statement, “As the Harvard-educated and renowned economist takes up another onerous task of service to the world and humanity, the President believes her track record of integrity, diligence and passion for development will continue to yield positive results and rewards to mankind.
“President Buhari affirms that Dr Okonjo-Iweala, who over the years set major records of economic reforms in Nigeria as Minister of Finance, and later Minister of Foreign Affairs, will excel in her new position and validate the global mandate of repositioning and strengthening the multilateral institution for the greater good of all.”
Lawan congratulates Okonjo-Iweala
President of Senate, Ahmad Lawan, also yesterday congratulated the former Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on her emergence as the first African and first female Director-General of the WTO.
The President of the Senate said, “I heartily rejoice with Dr Okonjo-Iweala on this well-deserved victory.
“With her latest feat, the former Nigerian Minister of Finance and Managing Director of the World Bank has again brought honour to Nigeria, Africa and women everywhere. I join the rest of the world to congratulate our sister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, on her well-deserved emergence as the DG of the WTO. This is a historic and momentous achievement, not only for Nigeria, but also for the entire Africa.”
Gbajabiamila congratulates Iweala
Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbaja-biamila also congratulated Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on her emergence as the Director-General of WTO.
The Speaker noted that the “former two-time Finance Minister of Nigeria comes to office with a wealth of experience that spans several decades, saying her track record speaks volumes.”
Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment, testament of her competence — Okowa
Delta State Governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, Monday, said the appointment of Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as Director-General of WTO was a testament to her competence and experience as a renowned economist and international development expert.
“Her appointment is indeed, a testament to your competence and experience as a renowned economist and international development expert. You went through a very rigorous and competitive process to emerge as the new head at the WTO.
“On behalf of my family, the Government and people of Delta, I congratulate a worthy Ambassador of Delta and Nigeria, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, on the recognition and appointment.”
AfCFTA will need her expertise to grow trade —MAN
Director General, Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Segun Ajayi-Kadri said : “This is a plus for our country in the international community and a welcome development for Africa, with the onset of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement. I congratulate Mr. President for this feat and commend him for the dogged support he rallied for her.
“As you are aware, the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA) which will cover a market of 1.2 billion people and a gross domestic product (GDP) of more than $3 trillion would need the support of her expertise for a smooth take-off and steady success as a huge component of the world economy.
While not guaranteeing unmerited advantages and disproportionate treatment, having an African at the helm of affairs in the WTO should give some comfort of understanding and assuage the noticeable anxieties of African countries in the world trade parlance. If you like, it may embolden the exploits of African nations when striking deals with the rest of the world.”
African economies need to build capacity within continent —LCCI DG
The Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry heartily felicitates with Nigeria on the appointment of Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
“It is a great delight being the First Female and First African to head the WTO since its formation in 1995 (replacing the General Agreements on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which commenced in 1948).
“Africa has peculiar challenges in the global trade arena. The continent is deeply integrated into the global supply chain and this underscores the low participation level of African economies in international trade.’’