Nigeria’s former Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has been confirmed as Director General (DG) by the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Dr Okonjo-Iweala thus becomes the first African and the first woman to head the WTO. Her appointment was confirmed on Monday.
WTO members took the decision to appoint Okonjo-Iweala at a special meeting of the General Council, following a selection process that included eight candidates from around the world.
The WTO is the intergovernmental organization that is concerned with the regulation of international trade between nations.
In a congratulatory message, President of the European Council (EC), Charles Michel said Okonjo-Iweala can count on the full support of the European Union (EU).
“My warmest wishes to Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala @NOIweala on your appointment as Director General of @wto. You bring a wealth of experience and expertise at a time when the WTO needs reform. Count on full support of the EU,” Michel tweeted.
Okonjo-Iweala prevailed over several other candidates in the months-long WTO leadership race, including South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung Hee, her main rival.
Okonjo-Iweala emerged victorious in the contest over Ms Yoo Myung-hee by a wide margin. She polled 104 votes from 164 member countries to defeat the South Korea’s trade minister at the final stage of the race.
The South Korea trade minister later stepped down paving the way for Okonjo-Iweala, whose today’s confirmation at a meeting of envoys from the 164 WTO member countries has been considered a mere formality.
The previous U.S. administration of President Donald Trump had tried to block Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment by opposing her.
However, Trump’s successor, Joe Biden last week threw his weight behind the woman, who previously served as Nigerian finance and foreign minister, and as the managing director of the World Bank.
Okonjo-Iweala is set to succeed the Brazilian Roberto Azevedo, who left the WTO before the end of his term in August.
He has joined U.S beverage giant Pepsico as an executive.
The leadership change comes as the WTO is in its deepest crisis since it was founded in 1995.
The WTO is no longer able to settle trade disputes between countries as the United States has blocked the appointment of appeals judges.
The Trump administration sought reforms of the WTO, without clearly spelling out its demands.
In addition, free trade talks have been stalled for years, and the WTO now also faces a global economic crisis.
Meanwhile, Okonjo-Iweala has said she will bring a fresh pair of eyes and ears to the WTO.