The world trade organization (wto) since the 1st march, 2021 has a new director-general and her name is ngozi okonjo-iweala

The present boss of the global trade body, is an economist and former Nigerian Finance Minister. Ngozi is the first woman and first African to lead the World Trade Organization.  Furthermore, her dual citizenship with the United States also makes her the first American to hold this post. 
She enjoyed wide support from Australia, China, the European Union and Japan.   Then on Monday 15th February, the 164 members of the WTO unanimously selected the 66-year-old, to serve a four-year term which began on the 1st March 2021.

Ngozi took up the position during an unenviable time, when the global economies are dealing with the pandemic and also corresponds with the WTO facing criticism over the negative ramifications of globalization and capitalism on the developing world. 

The Geneva, Switzerland based body, whose job it is to promote free trade, has been without a permanent director-general since Roberto Azevedo stepped down a year earlier than planned at the end of August.  His resignation was caused by the WTO being caught in the middle of an escalating trade war between the United States and China, plus US tariffs imposed on Canada, Mexico and the European Union.  So, in addition to the problems facing Ngozi when she took over, she also must struggle with preventing trade spats between its members. 

Okonjo-Iweala who comes from one of the few parts of the world where free trade is on the up, has said that trade will play a huge role in recovering from the coronavirus pandemic.  Quoting her verbatim in an interview last August she said “The WTO needs a leader at this time.  It needs a fresh look, a fresh face, an outsider, someone with the capability to implement reforms and to work with members to make sure the WTO comes out of the partial paralysis that it has been in.” 

Ngozi worked for 25 years at the World Bank as a development economist and rose to the position of Managing Director.  Then up until last December, she chaired the board of Gavi, which assists in distributing coronavirus vaccines globally.

Further to her work in government, Ngozi served on the Growth Commission from 2006 through to 2009.  Then 2012-2013 on board of the United Nations’ Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda.  She also co-chaired the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation. 

After leaving the government, in 2015 Ngozi was a member of the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity, chaired by former British Prime-Minister, Gordon Brown.    Since then, she has held several varied posts through to June 2020, at which time Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, nominated her as the country’s candidate to be Director General of the WTO.   

NGOZI OKONJO-IWEALA, is married to Ikemba Iweala, a neurosurgeon from Umuahia, Abia State, Nigeria.  They have four children, including author Uzodinma Iweala.    In 2019 Ngozi became a US citizen after several decades of working and studying there. 

Last month (May), the Director General underlined the urgent need to address equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines.  She requested that WTO members respond urgently to the need for a multilateral solution to ensure impartial access to vaccines worldwide, describing it as the “moral and economic issue of our time”.  The WTO boss made her remarks at a meeting of the organization’s General Council, where the subject of intellectual property and access to essential Covid-19 medicines and medical equipment was addressed. 


Sandy McInnes
MPL Newsletter Editor