Nigeria's Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala made history as the newly appointed World Trade Organization head. She will be the first female and the first African in the history of the trade body to hold a four-year term as the Director-General.
The World Trade Organization is an intergovernmental body that serves as a forum for governments to negotiate trade agreements. It is a place for them to settle disputes and sort out any trade problems.
Iweala’s appointment comes at a time when many global economies have been dealt with a severe blow due to the pandemic. And the WTO also faces criticism over the negative ramifications of globalization and capitalism in the developing world. A former Nigerian Finance Minister, Iweala was also a senior World Bank executive.
“The WTO can contribute so much more to helping stop the pandemic,” she said. “No one is safe until everyone is safe. Vaccine nationalism at this time just will not pay, because the variants are coming. If other countries are not immunized, it will just be a blowback,” she said. “It's unconscionable that people will be dying elsewhere, waiting in a queue, when we have the technology.”
She also noted that members should accelerate efforts to lift export restrictions slowing trade in needed medicines and supplies. “A very top priority for me would be to make sure that prior to the very important ministerial conference ... that we come to solutions as to how the WTO can make vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics accessible in an equitable and affordable fashion to all countries, particularly to poor countries.”
She is a Harvard-educated economist and holds a Ph.D. from MIT. And is viewed by experts as having much “loftier goals” to reform the WTO – from finding ways to ensure that small developing countries benefit from global trade as much as wealthy countries. Addressing challenges with GATT (an international trade agreement that served as a precursor to the WTO) and Climate change related issues – although it isn’t officially in the scope of the agency.