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How Okonjo-Iweala Became the First Female WTO Leader

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
Ngozi Okonjo-IwealaPhotographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg
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Members of the World Trade Organization selected Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as their director-general, making the 66-year-old Nigerian developmental economist the first woman and the first African to lead the WTO. The appointment came at a critical moment for the body, which has been confronting the most turbulent period of its 26-year existence. Backed by the U.S., EU, Japan and China, world leaders hope Okonjo-Iweala can help steer the WTO out of its negotiating morass and make it fit to govern the modern global trading system.

The Geneva-based WTO’s mission of economic integration is under threat from protectionist policies around the globe, and without reform it risks being sidelined during the biggest economic crisis in a century. The world’s largest economies agree that the organization must evolve to address the shifts in technology and the global trading system that have occurred since 1995. A new director-general could break bureaucratic logjams and help unleash a wave of global growth at a time when it is needed most.