China welcomes appointment of new WTO chief

By ZHANG YUE | China Daily | Updated: 2021-02-17 

WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Nigeria’s Okonjo-Iweala is first woman and first African to serve in the post

China on Tuesday congratulated Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala after she was appointed as the new director-general of the World Trade Organization, and said it expects the WTO to play a bigger role in promoting global cooperation in the global battle for economic recovery and against the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 164 members of the WTO agreed on Monday to appoint Okonjo-Iweala, an economist and a former finance minister of Nigeria, as its next director-general, the WTO said in a news release.

She will assume the post on March 1 for a renewable term expiring on Aug 31, 2025, according to the WTO statement.

“China has full confidence in Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment as the WTO director-general,” the Ministry of Commerce said in a statement on Tuesday morning.

Noting that Okonjo-Iweala is the first woman and the first African to serve as the WTO’s director-general, the ministry said that she has long been working for poverty alleviation for developing countries and public health, and gained tremendous management experience, and that her appointment also won “widespread public respect”.

As COVID-19 is still rampaging globally and the multilateral trading system faces severe challenges, China expects the WTO to resume its normal function at the earliest possible date after Okonjo-Iweala takes the post, play a bigger role in international cooperation, promote needed reforms, and maintain and enhance the effectiveness of the multilateral trading system, the ministry’s statement said.

As this year marks the 20th anniversary of China’s accession to the WTO, the nation is stepping up building its new development paradigm, which will bring more opportunities to the world, the statement said.

It said that China will firmly uphold the multilateral trading system and actively participate in WTO reform, and support Okonjo-Iweala’s role as the new head of the WTO, to help the organization make a greater contribution to improving the global governance system and enhancing people’s well-being globally.

David Walker, the WTO’s General Council chair, noted in a statement that Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment was a “very significant moment for the WTO”.

Okonjo-Iweala said in a WTO statement that a key priority for her would be to work with members to quickly address the economic and health consequences brought about by the pandemic.

She said she would work with the organization’s members to address health issues brought about by the pandemic and “get the global economy going again”.

“A strong WTO is vital if we are to recover fully and rapidly from the devastation wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.

“Our organization 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.”

Okonjo-Iweala, 66, is a global finance expert, economist and international development professional with over 30 years of experience working around the world.

Serving twice as Nigeria’s finance minister and briefly acting as the nation’s foreign minister, she has had a 25-year career at the World Bank, including as its managing director of operations.

Applauding the “timely” appointment, China’s Ambassador to the WTO Li Chenggang noted that “the collective decision made by the entire membership demonstrates a vote of trust not only in Dr. Ngozi herself, but also in our vision, our expectation and the multilateral trading system that we all believe and preserve”.

“As a contributor and beneficiary of a stable, non-discriminatory and rules-based multilateral trading system, China does believe trade, mutually-advantageous trade, will be a key tool that can help us to find a way out of the current situation and realize economic recovery soon,” he added.

The General Council’s decision follows months of uncertainty triggered by the initial refusal of the United States to join the consensus around Okonjo-Iweala, throwing its support behind South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee instead.

On Feb 5, Yoo decided to withdraw her candidacy and the new US administration of President Joe Biden announced that Washington would extend its “strong support” to the candidacy of Okonjo-Iweala.

Xinhua contributed to this story.

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