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WTO's first African chief seen helping to rebalance trade

China Daily | Updated: 2021-02-19 07:39

FILE PHOTO: Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala poses outside a Nigerian diplomatic residence in Chambesy, near Geneva, Switzerland on September 29, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia-The appointment of Nigeria-born Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the first African director-general of the World Trade Organization, or WTO, can help rebalance global trade, an Ethiopian expert said on Wednesday.

The WTO is one of the key institutions of the UN system. The agency came under pressure after then-US president Donald Trump acted unilaterally in response to trade disputes the United States had with other countries, said Costantinos Bt. Costantinos, economic adviser to the African Union, or AU, and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.

As a result, the WTO couldn't have any leverage as an arbiter between countries in terms of regulating world trade, he said.

However, Okonjo-Iweala can help the WTO better play its role of organizing world trade in a more equitable way, Costantinos said. The 66-year-old's credentials, including her experience as a senior official in the World Bank and a former Nigerian finance minister, made her qualified to handle complex global trade issues, he added.

"World trade is completely disoriented in a sense, and therefore bringing world trade to some kind of sensible process needs a person like... Iweala that would eventually be presiding on negotiations between countries," Costantinos said.

He also said Okonjo-Iweala's appointment can bring significant benefits to African countries affected by unfair global trade practices.

"The WTO has a key function in terms of regulating trade relations between African countries and (between) Africa and the rest of the world. Her appointment is significant for Africa because this is an able woman," said Costantinos.

Moussa Faki Mahamat, the chairperson of the AU Commission, has warmly congratulated Okonjo-Iweala upon her formal selection by the General Council of the WTO as the next director-general.

When she begins her term on March 1, Okonjo-Iweala will become the first woman and the first African to head the organization, a statement from AU said on Tuesday.

Okonjo-Iweala is a global finance expert, an economist, and an international development professional with over 30 years' experience working around the world.


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