Nigeria’s former finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, on Monday emerged the new director general of the World Trade Organization, becoming the first woman and African to hold the top post.

Mrs Okonjo-Iweala’s five-year term begins March 1 and is renewable.

Unlike the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the WTO has not been in the news so frequently, and many may not really understand what this important global trade body does and how it contributes to the world’s economy.

So what are is functions and what will Mrs Okonjo-Iweala’s role be for the next five years?

WTO

The World Trade Organisation, (WTO), is a global organisation that deals with trade between countries.

It was officially established on January 1,1995 but the trading system is half a century older. The principal mandate of the WTO is to ensure open trade for the good of all.

It supervises the country implementation, administration and operation of trade agreements.
Also, it provides a forum for trade negotiations and for settling of disputes.

Aside negotiations, it reviews and propagates the national trade policies which ensures the coherence and transparency of trade policies through surveillance in global economic policy-making.

It assists developing, least-developed and low-income countries in transition to adjust to WTO rules and disciplines through technical cooperation and training.

The WTO facilitates the implementation, administration, and operation and further the objectives of this agreement and the Multilateral Trade Agreements.

The WTO provides forum for negotiations among its members concerning their multilateral trade relations. The WTO administers a trade policy review mechanism.

In order to achieve greater coherence in global economic policymaking, the WTO cooperates with global funding organizations (International Monetary Fund (IMF) and with the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD).

The global trade organisation generates its income for its annual budgets from contributions by its member countries.

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These contributions are based on a formula that takes into account each member’s share of international trade, details from the web page have shown.

It also earns income from rental fees and sales of WTO print and electronic publications.

Also, it manages a number of trust funds, which have been contributed by members.

Usually, the funds are used in support of special activities for technical cooperation and training meant to enable least-developed and developing countries.

This is to make better use of the WTO and draw greater benefit from the multilateral trading system.

Okonjo-Iweala’s Roles

As director-general, Mrs Okonjo-Iweala will be responsible for supervising and directing the organisation’s administrative operations.

The former Nigeria’s minister of finance will be the council head of 160 member states.

Mrs Okonjo-Iweala is expected to tackle unresolved challenges in the WTO.

Some of those problems are: U.S. disagreement with China, liberalisation in tariffs and other protectionist measures, lack of transparency, E- commerce and digital trade, agriculture and development, funding WTO secretariat and slow pace of decision-making.

The WTO has gone a long time without achieving a successful multilateral agreement to reduce tariffs or other trade barriers (though members have agreed in recent years on improvements to trade facilitation and lowering ICT tariffs).

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