History is made: Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala chosen as WTO Director-General

Global Governance

History is made: Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala chosen as WTO Director-General
World Trade Organisation News and Events
15 February 2021
WTO members made history today (15 February) when the General Council agreed by consensus to select Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria as the organization’s seventh Director-General.

When she takes office on 1 March, Dr Okonjo-Iweala will become the first woman and the first African to be chosen as Director-General. Her term, renewable, will expire on 31 August 2025.

“This is a very significant moment for the WTO. On behalf of the General Council, I extend our warmest congratulations to Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on her appointment as the WTO’s next Director-General and formally welcome her to this General Council meeting,” said General Council Chair David Walker of New Zealand who, together with co-facilitators Amb. Dacio Castillo (Honduras) and Amb. Harald Aspelund (Iceland) led the nine-month DG selection process…

“I am honoured to have been selected by WTO members as WTO Director-General,” said Dr Okonjo-Iweala. “A strong WTO is vital if we are to recover fully and rapidly from the devastation wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic. I look forward to working with members to shape and implement the policy responses we need to get the global economy going again. Our organization faces a great many challenges but working together we can collectively make the WTO stronger, more agile and better adapted to the realities of today.”…

Acceptance Statement [excerpts]
…1.10.WTO Members have a further responsibility to reject vaccine nationalism and protectionism. They should rather intensify cooperation on promising new vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics. There should be a “third way” to broaden access through facilitating technology transfer within the framework of multilateral rules, so as to encourage research and innovation while at the same time allowing licensing agreements that help scale up manufacturing of medical products. Some pharmaceutical companies are already ahead of the game because they are doing this. Astrazeneca has licensed production in several countries, and has recently declared that it is willing to look at more such arrangements. Johnson & Johnson seems willing to follow suit looking beyond contract manufacturing to licensing agreements. The Serum Institute of India, which is set to manufacture up to 1 billion doses of vaccines, is a good example. Facilitating such arrangements will enable the WTO to support the WHO ACT-Accelerator, especially the COVAX facility to get affordable vaccines quickly to poor countries. Looking beyond this pandemic, the WTO must be proactive in strengthening cooperation with other multilateral and bilateral partners, the private sector, and civil society to set a framework for dealing with problems of the global commons such as this pandemic. The private sector, civil society, and parliamentarians are important partners of the WTO with whom collaboration will be further nurtured going forward…

1.18. Let me conclude by saying that the challenges facing the WTO are numerous and tricky, but they are not insurmountable. There is hope. There is light at the end of the tunnel if we work together in a transparent manner that builds trust, builds bridges, defuses political tensions, and encourages convergence. 1.19.The pandemic and its economic fallout have highlighted the interdependence of countries, the importance of multilateralism, and the need to strengthen collaboration to achieve fair and balanced trade agreements that provide opportunities for all WTO Members, particularly least developed countries and small island states. By working together, we can build trust, and we can achieve a stronger, more relevant, and inclusive trading system. I am passionate about these goals. I am keen to support you to carry out the necessary reforms. I look forward to working closely with all of you in the coming months and years, to help build the WTO that we all want, a WTO that is about people, a WTO that is dynamic, robust, and that provides essential support to economic growth and sustainable development through trade. Once again ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for this opportunity