DG, WTO, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

Newly elected Director General of the World Trade Organisation WTO, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has promised to focus on delivering for all member-nations of the economic multilateral organisation as she officially assumes duty. This, she believes, would boost the chances of women and Africans to be appointed to such elevated positions in future.

Okonjo-Iweala was unanimously elected by the council of the WTO on November 6, 2020 but her assumption of office was delayed by the threat by former President Donald Trump’s United States Government to quit the WTO, and therefore declined to grant the country’s approval, which was however given last week by President Joe Biden.

The new DG, who made history both as the first African and woman to ascend to the position while speaking on a Cable TV interview monitored in Lagos, said her main focus in to deliver on her job for all member nations of the organisation.

According to her, she had same focus when she was invited by former President Olusegun Obasanjo to be the country’s Minister of Finance and later by former President Goodluck Jonathan, who also appointed her as Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, noting that her ability to deliver paved the way for three other Nigerian women to be appointed Ministers of Finance in the country.

She disclosed that she is bringing the same focus to the WTO, believing strongly that if she is able to deliver not only for Africa, her continent but also for all member nations of the WTO, more women would have the opportunity to rise to such positions and vice versa.

The former Managing Director of the World Bank further argued that since the formation of the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs GATT about 73 years ago, which metamorphosed into the WTO, no woman has headed the organisation, insisting that her ability to deliver would be a catalyst for other women to come on board in the future.

“When I was given the opportunity to serve my country by former President Obasanjo and later former President Jonathan as Minister of Finance, I focused on trying to deliver and working round the clock because I told myself that if I do a good job, it will open doors for other women in the future.

“And that is my joy that it worked. After me, three other women have been nominated Ministers of Finance, in fact it is now almost a norm in Nigeria that Ministers of Finance should be women, that is really the impact I wanted to make.

“Similarly, the WTO is a very important Economic Multilateral Organisation and in its 73 years since the formation of the GATT, which turned into the WTO, there has not been a woman, who headed it; you can imagine that. So with this opening, I will focus on doing a good job so that other women would have a good opportunity, Africa will equally have a good opportunity.

“I will serve all members, delivering results, not just for my continent, which is very important also but for all member nations of the WTO”, she also pledged.

On her competencies, she had said while vying for the position: “I have the skills that are needed”, citing her experience at the top at the World Bank and as Nigeria’s Finance Minister as training enough for the position.

“I am a Development Economist and you cannot do that without looking at trade. Trade is a central part of development,” Iweala stated. “So, I have been doing it. In my whole career at the World Bank, I was working on trade policy reform in middle and low-income countries at the bank.”

She added: “Those who say I don’t have trade, they are mistaken. I think the qualities I have are even better, because I combine development economics with trade knowledge, along with finance, and you need this combination of skills to lead the WTO. I think I have the skills that are needed. I am a trade person.”

She currently serves as a board chairperson of the Global Vaccine Alliance Gavi and a board member of social media giant, Twitter.