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I’ll take WTO to greater heights – Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala


President Muhammadu Buhari, the United States, China and governors on Monday welcomed the announcement of former Finance Minister Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the new director-general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

They said in their congratulatory messages to Okonjo-Iweala on Monday that they had no iota of doubt that she would take the 26-year-old inter-governmental organisation responsible for the regulation of international trade to higher heights.

With her selection, the erstwhile World Bank Managing Director becomes the first black, first African, and first female to lead the trade organisation.

She takes over from Roberto Azevêdo, who stepped down August 31, 2020, a year before the expiration of his mandate.

The WTO had in a terse statement said: “Members have just agreed to appoint Dr. Okonjo-Iweala as the next director-general. Dr Okonjo-Iweala will become the first woman and the first African to head the WTO.”

The trade organisation explained that the decision was taken at its general council’s special meeting.

The statement added that Okonjo-Iweala “will assume duties on March 1, while her term will expire on August 31, 2025, but it could be renewed.”

In her acceptance speech, Okonjo-Iweala said the WTO would get the global economy running again during her tenure.

She expressed willingness to make the WTO stronger, adding that the organisation would adapt to the “realities of today.

Her words: “I am honoured to have been selected by WTO members as WTO DG. 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 organisation 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.”

US, China promise cooperation
The United States (U.S.), in welcoming the development, said it was “eager” to work with Okonjo-Iweala.

“The U.S. is committed to working closely with Director-General Okonjo-Iweala and she can count on US to be a constructive partner,” said David Bisbee, the American trade delegate to the WTO.

Delays in the appointment of WTO chief stemmed from the reluctance of former U.S. President Donald Trump to approve Okonjo-Iweala’s candidacy. The Trump administration favoured South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee.

However, after Joe Biden assumed presidency, Myung-hee quit the race, paving the way for Okonjo-Iweala’s selection.

China said it “has full confidence in Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment as the WTO director-general.”

A statement by the Ministry of Commerce, noted that the appointment of the former Minister of Foreign Affairs meets the expectations of all.

“China anticipates that Okonjo-Iweala will help the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference achieve positive results, advance necessary reforms to the WTO, and uphold and strengthen the authority and effectiveness of the multilateral trade system,” the statement added.

Lagarde, EU Parlaiment boss, Akinwumi: She will deliver
Fellow female global leaders, such as European Commission’s President Ursula von der Leyen and President of the European Central Bank Christine Lagarde, also hailed the emergence of the Delta State-born former Foreign Affairs Minister as the WTO boss.

Von der Leyen said on Twitter handle: “This is a historic moment for the entire world. I’m so glad to see a woman from Africa at the head. Europe is fully behind you.

“We support the reform of the WTO and will help you protect the rules-based multilateral trading system,”

Lagarde noted that she has known “Ngozi (Okonjo-Iweala) for many years,” adding that “her strong will and determination will drive her to tirelessly promote free trade to the benefit of people worldwide.”

Also, African Development Bank President, Akinwumi Adesina, tweeted: “Congratulations to my dear big sister @NOIweala on becoming today the first woman and first African to be elected as Director General of @wto. Congratulations!”

The Nigerian leaders that congratulated Okonjo-Iweala include President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan; House of Representatives Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila; a former Deputy President of the Senate Ike Ekweremadu; Governors Ifeanyi Okowa (Delta), Nyesom Wike (Rivers); Godwin Obaseki (Edo); Okezie Ikpeazu(Abia) and Hope Uzodimma (Imo).

Others were former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, erstwhile Anambra State Governor Peter Obi, and the Peoples Democratic Party National Chairman, Uche Secondus.

Buhari expressed confidence in the ability of the new WTO DG to reposition the institution. He noted in a statement by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, that her new office would confer more respect on Nigeria .

The statement reads: “On behalf of the Federal Government and all Nigerians, President Buhari warmly felicitates with former Minister of Finance and Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on her election as the WTO DG, bringing joy and more honour to the country.

“As the Harvard-educated and renowned economist takes up another onerous task of service to the world and humanity, the President believes her track record of integrity, diligence and passion for the development will continue to yield positive results and rewards to mankind.

“President Buhari affirms that Dr Okonjo-Iweala, who over the years set major records of economic reforms in Nigeria as Minister of Finance, and later Minister of Foreign Affairs, will excel in her new position and validate the global mandate of repositioning and strengthening the multilateral institution for the greater good of all.”

Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment Adeniyi Adebayo said Okonjo-Iweala “will not disappoint the organisation and all those who worked to make the appointment a reality.”

While Senate President Ahmad Lawan urged the former minister to use her new position to promote global prosperity and fair trade, Gbajabiamila challenged her to make Nigeria and Africa proud in her new assignment.

Gbajabiamila asked the new WTO boss to make Nigeria and Africa proud in her new assignment.

The House Speaker, who said he was elated by the news, pointed out that her confirmation has once again proved that Nigeria has experts that can compete favourably both at home and abroad.

“We commend the global community for having confidence in Dr. Okonjo Iweala and particularly, United States President Joe Biden for the unwavering support given to her by his administration, which is clearly in recognition of Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s competence,” he added.

Okowa, Wike, Uzodimma, Obaseki, Ikpeazu
Okowa, Wike, Obaseki, Uzodimma and Ikpeazu said they were particularly happy that Okonjo-Iweala had by her appointment broken the 26-year-old jinx of a female becoming head of the WTO.

Okowa, who is the governor of Okonjo-Iweala’s home state, described the new WTO DG as an illustrious Deltan from Ogwashi-Uku and a two-time Minister of Finance, who led Nigeria’s economy to exit foreign debt obligations during her first term under former President Olusegun Obasanjo.

“I am excited to hear of the emergence of our illustrious daughter, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, as the WTO DG. Your appointment is indeed, a testament to your competence and experience as a renowned economist and international development expert,” Okowa said in a statement.

Obaseki assured that the former Finance Minister would bring her wealth of experience to bear in building stronger alliances to promote multilateral trade, instill the needed discipline to advance the development of world economies.

According to him, she will bridge trade gaps between developed and developing economies across the globe.

Also, Wike said the world has entered a new epoch with the appointment Okonjo-Iweala as the WTO DG.

He described her as a beacon of hope for Nigeria, saying her new position will usher in a new era in the WTO.

Uzodimma said Okonjo-Iweala’s new post has not only brought honour to Nigeria, but shows how Nigerians have continued to impact the world positively.

He added that Okonjo-Iwuala’s track record of achievements as a renowned development economist places her in a position to take the WTO to a level that the world would be proud of because of her intelligence, meticulousness and education.

Ikpeazu described the former minister as a history maker, pace setter and powerful pathfinder for the womenfolk on the global scene.

“Her emergence is yet another evidence that excellence and hardwork have their rewards, even at the highest level. We are delighted because Okonjo Iweala is an Abia woman by virtue of her marriage to an Abian, Dr. Iweala….”he added

Secondus, Atiku, Obi celebrate
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) clan spoke glowingly of Okonjo-Iweala, saying her appointment was the most suiting for a troubled nation in search of its soul due to poor leadership.

It said her new position mirrored Nigeria’s great future, notwithstanding the failure of today’s political leaders.

“This savouring news coming at this time that the nation is witnessing her worse due to leadership failure is relieving and hope rising that a greater tomorrow awaits this land”, Secondus said in a statement.

Also, Atiku said in a statement he personally signed that he was “an apostle of free trade and an astute manager of people and resources, and the world will be a much more prosperous place by her elevation to this enviable height.”

He added: “As the world prepares to emerge from the global pandemic of COVID-19, the planet needs a steady hand at the wheels, to drive global trade and rebuild from the devastation wrought by the virus.

“We would not need someone who thinks they can pull this off. We would need someone who has actually and serially pulled it off before. And that person has emerged.”

The minority caucus in the House of Representatives congratulated the former minister, saying her appointment has reinforced global confidence in her competence and proficiency to head the world body.

It commended the global community for having confidence in Okonjo Iweala and particularly, the US and Myung-hee.

Ekweremadu noted, in a statement, “with her(Okonjo-Iweala) emergence, the much needed transformation and democratisation of the WTO to play its expected roles in the 21st Century global economy are imminent”.

Vice-presidential candidate of the PDP in the 2019 elections Peter Obi, said he has “high confidence in Okonjo-Iweala’s ability to draw from her knowledge, skills and wide experience from the economic and financial sectors, to lead the WTO to greater heights.”

Governors hail ex-Finance minister on top job
The Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) has expressed delight at the appointment of former Finance Minister Dr. Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

A statement by NGF’s Head, Media and Public Affairs, Abdulrazaque Bello-Barkindo, reads: ” NGF, on behalf of all Nigerians rejoices with Dr Ngozi Okonjo Iweala on her elevation to the office of the Director-General of the World Trade Organization.

“Her confirmation which was ratified by the WTO Council and made public today, Monday, 15 February 2021, has been long awaited, very well deserved and could not have come at a better time.

“Dr Ngozi Okonjo Iweala’s pedigree as a well-known global development economist, who has served at some of the most prestigious global financial institutions, apart from her illustrious years as Nigeria’s Finance Minister raises hopes around the world that her tenure at the WTO will herald remarkable changes in the face of the economic challenges currently afflicting the world.

“The woman of firsts as she is fondly known, because of her accomplishments, brings along exciting news that being a Nigerian would give visibility and credibility to the nation.

“Already she has, while reacting to the news of her appointment, pledged to immediately commence work by providing solutions that will ameliorate the hardships brought upon humanity by the Covid19 pandemic.

“Okonjo-Iweala’s tenure will begin from the 1st of March and last until August 2025 and the NGF wishes her a successful tenure through it all.”

APC excited at appointment
The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) also congratulated Dr. Okonjo-Iweala on her confirmation as Director-General of the WTO.

A statement by the Secretary of the Caretaker) Extra-Ordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC), Senator John James Akpanudoedehe, said the governing party was proud of the feat attained by the country’s former Minister of Finance.

The statement reads: “On behalf of the National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC), H.E. Mai Mala Buni, and teeming members of our great party, we congratulate Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on her confirmation as Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), becoming the first woman and the first African to lead the global trade body.

“We are proud to note that Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s mandate to head the WTO followed broad support from members of the global trade body. The APC is confident that Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a renowned economist and Nigeria’s former Finance Minister, will successfully lead the needed reforms to reposition the WTO to effectively deliver on its mandate to promote open and fair trade for the benefit of all.”

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