Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has been appointed to head the World Trade Organization as it seeks to to resolve disagreements over how it decides cases involving billions in sales and thousands of jobs.
Okonjo-Iweala, 66, was appointed director-general of the World Trade Organization by representatives of the 164 member countries, according to a statement from the body.
She is the first woman and African to head the global watchdog in its 25-year history.
She said in a statement that her first priority would be quickly addressing the economic and health consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and to “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,” she said.
The appointment came after new U.S. President Joe Biden endorsed her candidacy, which had been blocked by former President Donald Trump.
Biden’s move was a step toward his aim of supporting more cooperative approaches to international problems after Trump’s “America first” approach that launched multiple trade disputes.
But unblocking the appointment is only the start in dealing with trade disputes launched by Trump, and in resolving U.S. concerns about the WTO that date to the Obama administration. The U.S. had blocked the appointment of new judges to the WTO’s appellate body, essentially freezing its ability to resolve extended and complex trade disputes.
Okonjo-Iweala, formerly Nigeria’s finance minister, had a 25-year career at the World Bank, where she rose to the No. 2 position of managing director. She holds both U.S. and Nigerian citizenship and currently sits on the Boards of Standard Chartered Bank , Twitter, Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), and the African Risk Capacity (ARC).
South Korean trade minister Yoo Myung-hee had withdrawn her candidacy, leaving Okonjo-Iweala as the only choice. Her predecessor, Roberto Azevedo, stepped down Aug. 31, a year before his term expired.
The World Trade Organization is an international body that deals with the rules of trade between nations. At its heart are the WTO agreements, negotiated among the bulk of the world’s nations and ratified in their legislatures.