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Turkey hails appointment of new WTO chief

Turkey welcomed late on Feb. 15 the appointment of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the new director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO). 

“We welcome the conclusion of the recent Director-General selection process at the World Trade Organization with the appointment of the Nigerian candidate Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who received the strongest support in the process, as the new WTO Director General at the WTO General Council meeting held on February 15, 2021,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The statement emphasized that Okonjo-Iweala has “rich experience” in the fields of economy and diplomacy stemming from her previous positions including as finance minister and foreign minister of Nigeria as well as vice president of the World Bank.

She will take up her duties on March 1 and her term, which is renewable, will expire on Aug. 31, 2025.

The ministry congratulated Okonjo-Iweala, adding it believes the new world trade body chief will demonstrate “outstanding success” also in her work at the WTO.

“We also find it important that the selection process was concluded within the framework of the principle of consensus that constitutes the basis of the WTO’s rules of procedure. In this regard, we would like to thank all candidates who campaigned during the selection process for their contributions to the organization’s vision and its pluralist and democratic structure,” it said.

Okonjo-Iweala became the first woman and African to head the WTO, which has been hobbled by internal dissent in recent years.

“On this occasion, we reiterate our support for the rules-based multilateral free trade system. The WTO, as an institution, is in need of reform, and progress in that direction will be in the interests of all members irrespective of their level of development. We see benefit in the swift conclusion of the work on enhancing the Dispute Settlement Body and accelerating negotiations, first and foremost those related to the advancement of development issues, creating fairer conditions in the agriculture sector and fisheries subsidies,” the statement added.

The WTO called a special General Council meeting at which members formally named Okonjo-Iweala as director-general of the regulatory body for global trade.

Last October, most of the 27 WTO members attending a WTO meeting supported Okonjo-Iweala, a veteran Nigerian politician who twice served as finance minister and once as foreign minister.

The US was the only nation that opposed her candidacy at that meeting and said it was supporting the South Korean candidate, Yoo Myung-hee, who withdrew her bid last month.

After Yoo’s withdrawal, U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration said it would support the Nigerian candidate, who is also reported to have U.S. citizenship.​​​​​​​

For the first time, two women had vied for the top job at the WTO, which has seen the U.S. at loggerheads with China at many of its meetings in recent times, especially under the administration of former President Donald Trump.

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