Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former two-time Nigerian finance minister, was appointed Monday to the be the next director-general of the World Trade Organization. She is the first African and the first woman to lead the body, which governs trade rules between nations.
“This is a very significant moment for the WTO,” David Walker, the WTO’s General Council chair, said in a statement.
Okonjo-Iweala said she was “honoured” to be selected to lead the organization, and vowed to take on global economic and health challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
“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,” Okonjo-Iweala said.
“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,” she added.
Okonjo-Iweala takes over a beleaguered organization that is facing a slew of challenges that have hobbled the WTO in recent years, including how to best manage the increased friction between economic superpowers the United States and China.
Critics of the organization said it has failed to intervene over some of China’s most egregious economic offenses, which in turn has let the U.S. name its economic adversary a currency manipulator and impose or threaten billions of dollars in tariffs on goods from China.