Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has been confirmed as director-general of the World Trade Organization on Monday, making her the first woman and the first African to lead the global trade body.
Okonjo-Iweala was appointed by the WTO after the last remaining rival candidate, South Korean trade minister Yoo Myung-hee, withdrew from the race. She will take up her post on March 1, initially for a term that runs until August 2025.
An economist and former finance minister of Nigeria, Okonjo-Iweala enjoyed broad support from WTO members including the European Union, China, Japan and Australia. The United States, under the Trump administration, had favoured Yoo.
WTO has been leaderless since Brazilian career diplomat Roberto Azevedo stepped down last August, a year ahead of schedule.
The process of picking one of eight candidates to succeed him had been expected to wrap up by November, but the administration of former US president Donald Trump blocked the consensus to appoint Okonjo-Iweala.
Okonjo-Iweala has said her priorities include getting long-blocked trade talks on fishery subsidies across the finish line and breathing life back into WTO’s Appellate Body.
Twice Nigeria’s finance minister (2003-2006 and 2011-2015) and its first female foreign minister in a two-month stint in 2006, Okonjo-Iweala is seen as a trailblazer in her west African homeland.
She has brushed off claims she lacks experience as a trade minister or negotiator, insisting that what is needed to lead the WTO is not technical skills but “boldness, courage.”