Okonjo-Iweala appointed new WTO boss

Nigerian economist Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has become the first woman to be appointed director-general of the Geneva-based World Trade Organisation. The 66-year old is also the first African to hold the post, which was previously held by Brazilian diplomat Roberto Azevêdo. Expectations are accordingly high.

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Le Temps (CH) /

A skilled stateswoman with a mixed portfolio

Isolda Agazzi of the Swiss development think tank Alliance Sud is cautiously optimistic about the appointment in her blog with Le Temps:

“The fact that an African woman has been appointed director-general, and that she has reaffirmed her commitment to development, is very promising. Better access for poor countries to vaccines, tests and other protective equipment against Covid is fundamental. ... But make no mistake: Ngozi Okonjo Iweala was Nigeria's finance minister twice and worked for the World Bank for 25 years, where she even rose to number two. So she is a staunch liberal who has led privatisations in her country with the dramatic social consequences of which we are all aware. However, she has also distinguished herself in the fight against corruption, and achieved a 65 percent reduction of the country's national debt.”

taz, die tageszeitung (DE) /

An almost impossible mission

Despite her experience, the new director-general is burdened with expectations she can hardly meet, fears the taz:

“She is to overcome the 20-year blockade of the WTO. A mission that already proved impossible for her two predecessors, the Brazilian Roberto Azevêdo and the Frenchman Pascal Lamy. Despite the fact that both had already benefited from many years of experience at the WTO when they were appointed. The blockade is based on objective conflicts of interest between the member states. Since China joined the organisation in 2000, the four economic powers the US, EU, Japan and Canada have no longer been able to assert themselves as they were able to in the 1990s. And the conflicts are likely to intensify in the coming years.”

La Stampa (IT) /

Focus on vaccine patents

La Stampa hopes that poor countries won't be forgotten in the implementation of vaccination strategies:

“The former Nigerian finance minister has a little over four years for a crucial task in which she must display all the qualities as a negotiator that even her critics acknowledge she has. ... The first dossier concerns access to vaccines and ownership rights, which are essential for global economic recovery after Covid. Several countries, including India and South Africa, have asked for the rules protecting vaccine patents to be relaxed. ... It's expected that Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala will swiftly respond to this call.”