WTO to be led by African woman for the first time after Biden lifts Trump block

·2-min read

Former Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is to lead the World Trade Organisation (WTO) after Joe Biden lifted former US president Donald Trump's block on her appointment.

She becomes the first African and first woman to hold the director-general role - one of the few major global jobs that is subject to voting among member nations.

The 66-year old, who enjoyed a 25-year career at the World Bank, had seen her candidacy placed at risk when Mr Trump boycotted her appointment as part of his efforts to secure better outcomes for the United States.

The US has long argued the WTO, which polices the rules of trade between nations, discriminates against the world's largest economy and has been slow to act against illegal practices in China such as intellectual property theft.

Mr Trump took unilateral action during his time in office - slapping tariffs on Chinese goods worth hundreds of billions of dollars - and moved to tie the body up in knots by blocking judicial and other appointments.

Mr Biden's decision to overturn the block on Ms Okonjo-Iweala signals a more collaborative approach.

The appointment was rubber stamped on Monday because her only challenger, from South Korea, pulled out earlier this month.

Liam Fox, the UK's candidate, failed to secure enough international support for the role.

The WTO had been without a director-general since August last year.

Ms Okonjo-Iweala said her first priority would be to quickly address the economic and health consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and to get the global economy moving.

"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," she said in a statement.

She has said in the past that she is a believer in the power of trade to lift developing countries out of poverty and has called on richer countries to support a two-year standstill on debt service for indebted countries and proposed easing economic sanctions on Sudan and Zimbabwe for health reasons.