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Explained: Who is Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, first female and African to head WTO?

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is a Nigerian economist who has been serving the public domain as an expert on development and finance.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: February 17, 2021 10:39:45 am
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala during the fifth annual Associated Press debate, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, file)

The newly-appointed head of the World Trade Organisation, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala became the first female and first African to hold the role in its history. Her dual citizenship with the United States also makes her the first American to hold this position.

The WTO’s 164 members on Monday unanimously selected the 66-year-old Nigerian economist to serve a four-year term as the Director-General of the organisation. Her tenure is set to begin on March 1 2021.

Iweala takes up the position at a time when the global economies are dealing with the post-pandemic blow. Her appointment also corresponds with WTO facing criticism over the negative ramifications of globalisation and capitalism on the developing world.

Who is Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala?

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is a Nigerian economist whose career in development and finance spans over four decades. Iweala served as the Finance Minister of Nigeria, holding the position for two consecutive terms, first from 2003 to 2006 and then from 2011 to 2015. She was also the first woman to hold this position in her country and the first female to hold it twice.

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Iweala was the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Nigeria after her first tenure as the finance minister, again becoming the first female to be in this role. She held this position for two months.

In her capacity as the Finance Minister, she was seen as a tough negotiator who played an instrumental role in reducing and tackling Nigeria’s debts.

Iweala has also spent over 20 years working with the World Bank where she rose to become the Managing Director of the organization and oversaw 181 billion dollars worth of operations.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on Covid-19 pandemic

As the Chair of GAVI or Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, she worked on greater reach of immunisation and vaccines around the world, specially to the vulnerable populations. She also acknowledged the work that has to be done by WTO in this area, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.

After her appointment to WTO, Iweala said that her first priority would be focusing on the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic especially in the economic and healthcare sectors. Priority tasks according to her include efficient supply and trade of Covid-19 vaccines around the world. These would be lifting export restrictions on supplies and vaccines and encouraging the manufacturing of vaccines in more countries, AP reported.

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She has also touched upon the issue of “lack of trust” between the WTO members and expressed an urgent need to build this trust after years of sanctions and tariffs between member countries.

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