World Trade Organization appoints first woman head

World Trade Organization appoints first woman head

Nigerian economist Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has been appointed to head the World Trade Organization, becoming the first woman and first African to take on the role amid rising protectionism and disagreement over how the body decides cases involving billions in sales and thousands of jobs.

Okonjo-Iweala, 66, was named director-general by representatives of the 164 countries that make up the WTO, which deals with the rules of trade between nations based on negotiated agreements.

She said during an online news conference that she was taking over at a time when the WTO was "facing so many challenges".

"It's clear to me that deep and wide-ranging reforms are needed … it cannot be business as usual," The ABC cited her as saying.

Her first priority will be quickly addressing the economic and health consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. Strategies may include lifting export restrictions on supplies and vaccines, and encouraging the manufacturing of vaccines in more countries.

Other big tasks include reforming the organisation's dispute resolution process and finding ways for trade rules to deal with change like digitalisation and e-commerce.

She takes over after four turbulent years in which former US President Donald Trump used new tariffs, or import taxes, against China and the European Union to push his America-first trade agenda.