Okonjo-Iweala becomes first woman and first African to lead WTO
(Sourced from PTI)
On Monday, Nigeria's Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, 66, was appointed to head the World Trade Organization, becoming the first woman and first African to take on the role amid disagreement over how the body decides cases involving billions in sales and thousands of jobs. She was named director-general by representatives of the 164 countries of the WTO, which deals with the rules of trade between nations.
Okonjo-Iweala said, "The first priority is to address the economic consequences of the pandemic and to implement the policy responses needed to get the global economy going again. We can collectively make the WTO stronger, more agile, and better adapted to the realities of today."
The appointment came after US President Joe Biden endorsed her candidacy, which had been blocked by former President Donald Trump. Biden's move is a step toward supporting more cooperative approaches to international problems. Unblocking the appointment is only the start in dealing with trade disputes launched by Trump, and in resolving US concerns about the WTO that date to the Obama administration.
The US had blocked the appointment of new judges to the WTO's appellate body, essentially freezing its ability to resolve extended and complex trade disputes. It argued that WTO is ill-equipped to handle the problems posed by China's state-dominated economy, and unduly restrictive on the US attempts to impose sanctions on countries that unfairly subsidize their companies or export at unusually low prices.
Okonjo-Iweala is the first African official and the first woman to hold the job. She has been Nigeria's finance minister and has had a 25-year career at the World Bank as an advocate for economic growth and development in poorer countries. She made an unsuccessful bid for the top post at World Bank in 2012 with the backing of African and other developing countries.
Okonjo-Iweala served as a special envoy for the African Union to mobilize financial support against COVID-19. She urged richer countries to support a two-year standstill on debt service and proposed easing economic sanctions on Sudan and Zimbabwe for health reasons. She has a bachelor's degree in economics from Harvard University and a Ph.D. in regional economics and development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Trump accused WTO of unfair treatment of the US, started a trade war with China in defiance of WTO, and threatened to pull the US out of the organization altogether. Trump also imposed 25 percent steel tariffs that hit European allies on national security grounds. So far, Biden has not withdrawn the steel tariffs which are backed by the US steel industry and union groups.
Chad P. Bown, the senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, said unblocking Okonjo-Iweala's appointment was a very good first step in re-engaging with the WTO. In particular, the WTO faces a ticking time bomb in the form of other countries' challenges to Trump's use of national security as a justification for imposing tariffs, a little-used provision in US law.