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Wednesday, February 17, 2021

It will not be 'business as usual', newly appointed WTO chief says

Newly appointed World Trade Organization (WTO) director-general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said on Monday  she doesn't want to see "business as usual" as she will need to broker international trade talks in the face of U.S.-China conflict, respond to pressure to reform trade rules and counter protectionism heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic

Three months after the Trump administration rejected her, former Nigerian finance minister received unanimous backing on Monday (February 15) to become the first woman and first African director-general of the WTO.

A self-declared "doer" with a track record of taking on seemingly intractable problems, Okonjo-Iweala will have her work cut out for her at the trade body, even with Donald Trump, who had threatened to pull the United States out of the organisation, no longer in the White House.

The Trump administration's main criticism of her was that she lacked direct trade experience compared to her main South Korean rival and even supporters say she will have to quickly get up to speed on the technicalities of trade negotiations.

She has rejected this, saying that she has plenty of experience of trade, plus other expertise and asked about how she took the Trump rejection, she replied: "When things happen you take them in your stride and move on".

The endorsement of the Biden administration cleared the last obstacle to her appointment and she is due to begin March 1.

Okonjo-Iweala, who is a special envoy for the World Health Organization on COVID-19 and, until recently chair of the board of global vaccine alliance Gavi, said she wanted to build a framework on pandemic response "so that next time we don't waste time trying to figure out how to respond".

She also called on government to not be "nationalistic" regarding vaccines and said she will encourage lifting of restrictions put in place by countries during the pandemic.

The WTO currently faces deadlock over an issue of waiving intellectual property rights for COVID-19 drugs, with many wealthy countries opposed.


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