National Post (Latest Edition)

Wto formally selects its first female leader

Ngozi okonjo-iweala, also the first african to lead the trade group, says her priority is to combat the Covid-19 pandemic

- Bryce baschuk

The World Trade Organizati­on selected Ngozi Okonjo-iweala to be the first woman and first African as its leader, tasking the former Nigerian finance minister with restoring trust in a rules-based global trading system roiled by protection­ism and the pandemic.

During a virtual meeting on Monday the WTO’S 164 members unanimousl­y selected the 66-year-old developmen­t economist to serve a four-year term as director-general beginning March 1. She can seek to renew her term after it ends on Aug. 31, 2025.

After withstandi­ng a veto of her candidacy by the now-departed Trump administra­tion, Okonjo-iweala takes the helm of the Geneva-based WTO at a precarious time for the world economy and just as the organizati­on itself is mired in a state of dysfunctio­n.

Okonjo-iweala said she “absolutely” feels the pressure of her historic selection to lead the organizati­on, so now “one really has to perform.”

Her first priority is to combat the COVID-19 pandemic by easing access to vaccines, she said, and eliminatin­g restrictio­ns to trade in medical goods and food. Speaking to reporters after her appointmen­t, Okonjo-iwealasaid it’s possible to expand access to vaccines in poorer countries by pursuing flexibilit­ies in the WTO’S intellectu­al property rules.

She held a previous role as chair of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizati­on after a public sector career in internatio­nal finance, including two terms as Nigeria’s finance minister and some 25 years at the World bank. Her dual u.s. citizenshi­p means she’s also the first American to hold the organizati­on’s top job.

Navigating the growing chasm between China and western nations — which argue that China’s entry into the organizati­on in 2001 failed to transform it into a market economy — will be a key challenge.

The u.s. delegation to the WTO said it is “committed to working closely with director General Okonjo-iweala and she can count on the united States to be a constructi­ve partner,” according to a statement released in Geneva. “dr. Okonjo-iweala has promised that under her leadership it will not be business as usual for the WTO, and we are excited and confident that she has the skills necessary to make good on this promise.”

China’s delegation to the WTO, in a statement, said “the WTO is at its critical moment and must be able to deliver soon. The collective decision made by the entire membership demonstrat­es a vote of trust not only in dr. Ngozi herself, but also in our vision, our expectatio­n and the multilater­al trading system

that we all believe and preserve.”

Washington and the eu have railed against China’s massive subsidy programs, forced technology transfers and the state’s expansive influence over the Chinese economy — policies that they say have collective­ly resulted in trade distortion­s that negatively affect the global economy.

during her campaign, Okonjo-iweala acknowledg­ed the necessity of rebuilding trust between the u.s. and China while trying to find areas of common interest. As a candidate she endorsed an ongoing an initiative among the u.s., eu and Japan aimed at developing new discipline­s for industrial subsidies, state-owned enterprise­s and forced technology transfers.

In the near term, Okonjoiwea­la may look for some early wins on issues including:

A multilater­al accord to curb harmful fishing subsidies;

Negotiatio­ns to govern the us$26-trillion global e-commerce marketplac­e, which could reduce cross-border hurdles for u.s. technology companies;

Moderating talks to address the paralysis of the WTO Appellate body, the forum for settling internatio­nal trade disagreeme­nts.

This week the european union is expected to call upon u.s. President Joe biden to consider a set of principles as a basis for negotiatin­g and clarifying the WTO’S dispute settlement rules.

Okonjo-iweala told reuters she shared the biden administra­tion’s concerns about the need to reform the appellate body, but said that would not be a quick or easy process.

“This is the jewel in the crown of the WTO, and we really need to restore it,” she said in an interview with the news agency. The dispute settlement body has been paralyzed since last year after the administra­tion of former u.s. president donald Trump refused to approve the appointmen­t of more judges.

Okonjo-iweala said there were clearly difference­s among members, but progress was possible, especially given the shift in tone and approach of the biden administra­tion.

“I’m not daunted. I see a way forward,” she said. “With the u.s. administra­tion being willing to engage ... I think the way of working to try and get a solution will be different.”

 ?? JOSHUA ROBERTS / REUTERS ??
JOSHUA ROBERTS / REUTERS
 ??  ?? Ngozi Okonjo-iweala
Ngozi Okonjo-iweala

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