Another First! Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala chosen as Director-General of WTO

16th February 2021

World Trade Organization (WTO) members made history this month when the General Council agreed by consensus to select Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria as the organization’s seventh Director-General.

The process for selecting a new Director-General was triggered on 14 May 2020 when former Director-General Mr Roberto Azevêdo informed WTO members he would be stepping down from his post one year before the expiry of his mandate. He subsequently left office on 31 August. When Dr Okonjo-Iweala takes office on March 1st, she will become the first woman and the first African to be chosen as Director-General. Her term, renewable, will expire on 31 August 2025.

Dr Okonjo-Iweala said: “Today [February 15th, 2021], WTO Members are making history. For the first time in the seventy-three years of GATT and WTO, you are selecting a woman and an African as Director-General. This is ground breaking and positive. I am grateful for the trust you have in me, not just as a woman and an African, but also in my knowledge, experience, and, as some of you have said, possessing the courage and passion to work with you to undertake the wide ranging reforms the WTO needs to reposition itself for the future.”

On the announcement, General Council Chair, 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.”

Dr 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.

“A strong WTO is vital if we are to recover fully and rapidly from the devastation wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dr Okonjo-Iweala. “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 Dr Okonjo-Iweala and threw its support behind Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee of the Republic of Korea. But following Ms Yoo’s decision on 5 February to withdraw her candidacy, the administration of newly elected US President Joe Biden dropped the US objection and announced instead that Washington extends its “strong support” to the candidacy of Dr Okonjo-Iweala.