At the special meeting of the General Council held on the 15th, all members of the World Trade Organization unanimously agreed to appoint Nigerian economist Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the new Director-General. She is the first female Director-General in the history of the WTO and the first Director-General from Africa.
Rich experience and outstanding ability make Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala finally win the favor of WTO members.
However, taking office in the face of the role of the organization is questioned and the “no owner” state lasts for nearly half a year, which makes her director-general’s road full of challenges.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, 66, is a development economist who has received a bachelor’s degree in economics from Harvard University and a doctorate in regional economics and development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
She served as Nigeria’s Finance Minister twice in 2003 and 2011, and briefly served as Minister of Foreign Affairs in 2006.
During her tenure, she not only led many domestic reforms in the fields of government management transparency and anti-corruption, but also negotiated with the Paris Creditor Club, which eventually exempted Nigeria from repaying $30 billion in international loans.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala not only has rich domestic political experience, but also has outstanding experience in international organizations. She worked for the World Bank for 25 years and served as the Managing Vice President for a long time.
She also ran for the President of the World Bank in 2012, with the support of many African countries and other developing countries.
After the 2008 international financial crisis, she led several of the Bank’s assistance programs for low-income countries and raised nearly $50 billion in donations and low-interest loans for the poorest countries.
Unlike other previous Directors-General, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala also has work experience in the field of public health. In addition to serving as the chairman of the Board of Directors of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, she is also the special envoy for the World Health Organization-led “Getting Tools to Fight against COVID-19” International Cooperation Initiative.
She also helps African countries coordinate international anti-pandemic assistance funds as the special envoy of the African Union. All of these will help her take the WTO in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
Be expected high
As a development economist, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is believed to be expected to make international trade better serve development goals. When she ran for Director-General, she said she firmly believed that trade could lift developing countries out of poverty and help them achieve strong economic growth and sustainable development. In an exclusive interview with Xinhua News Agency, she stressed that the digital divide between developed and developing countries must be bridged.
She believes that the WTO can work with other organizations, such as the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the African Development Bank, the International Monetary Fund, etc., to help countries narrow the gap in policy and infrastructure investment.
Although Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala lacks direct work experience in the field of international trade, she emphasizes that being an “outsider” is an advantage to some extent, because it means that the crux of the problem can be found from a new perspective.
She said that the WTO is facing an existential crisis and needs a leader with a “new vision” and reform-oriented.
She said that there was a need for reform in response to the three pillars of WTO, namely, multilateral trade negotiations, dispute settlement mechanisms and trade policy supervision.
But she also stressed that the “core principles” of the WTO are non-discrimination, predictability and fairness, and members should support reforms committed to “restore” these principles.
Regarding how to resolve the differences among members, Okoncho-Iweala told Xinhua News Agency that the WTO is a member-driven organization, and its director-general needs to be a “good listener”, first listen to the opinions of members, then provide solutions for members in a positive and pragmatic manner, and strive to build among members. Reach consensus.
David Walker, chairman of the WTO General Council, said that Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has obviously won the broad support of members, both in terms of the level of development and geographical distribution of the members of the organization.
The European Parliament commented that she seemed to be fully prepared to become an “fair coordinator”.
Challenges are many
Although there are many expectations for Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to take charge of the WTO, she is facing multiple tests, including the economic recession and short-term problems such as trade stalls that need to be solved in the coronavirus pandemic, as well as the long-term challenges facing the WTO itself and the multilateral trading system.
According to WTO estimates, due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the volume of global trade in goods will shrink by 9.2% in 2020, and the future development of the pandemic and possible prevention and control measures that countries may implement make the prospects for trade recovery remain highly uncertain.
The trade restrictions adopted by some countries for medical supplies, daily necessities, etc. also constitute a resistance to global solidarity against the pandemic.
In response, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala stressed that the predictability and stability of the multilateral trading system can help countries get out of the recession as soon as possible.
She said that efforts will be made to ensure that the multilateral trading system and WTO rules can help poor countries have real access to anti-pandemic drugs and medical supplies, while noting the need to balance intellectual property issues to ensure that innovation and research are supported.
At present, the multilateral trading system is eroded by unilateralism and protectionism, and it is difficult for the WTO to play its normal function.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said that the multilateral trading system has encountered difficulties and challenges in recent years, and the world needs a “rejuvenated” WTO more than ever.
She noted that the first priority for the new Director General was to prepare for the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference this year.” The Ministerial Conference is the highest decision-making body of the WTO, and it is very important to achieve a positive outcome at the Ministerial Conference, because it shows that the WTO is working towards agreement.”