Okonjo-Iweala, who boasted US, EU and African backing, was not at the WTO’s Geneva headquarters for Monday’s meeting, but was scheduled to hold an online press conference after its conclusion.
She will take over an organisation mired in multiple crises and struggling to help member states navigate the severe global economic slump triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.
Okonjo-Iweala argued during the race that she was best placed out of the eight candidates for the post to steer the WTO through the crises, calling herself a reform candidate.
She warned that growing protectionism and nationalism had been spurred on by the pandemic, and insisted barriers needed to be lowered to help the world recover.
Even before Covid-19 battered the global economy, the WTO was weighed down by stalled trade talks and struggled to curb trade tensions between the United States and China.
The WTO also faced relentless attacks from Washington under Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump. Among other things, Trump brought the WTO’s dispute settlement appeal system to a grinding halt in late 2019.
Okonjo-Iweala has said her priorities include getting long-blocked trade talks on fishery subsidies across the finish line and breathing life back into WTO’s Appellate Body.
Twice Nigeria’s finance minister (2003-2006 and 2011-2015), and its first female foreign minister in a two-month stint in 2006, Okonjo-Iweala is seen as a trailblazer in her homeland.
She has brushed off claims she lacks experience as a trade minister or negotiator.
She has portrayed herself as a champion against Nigeria’s rampant corruption – saying her own mother was even kidnapped over her attempts to tackle the scourge.
But her critics argue she should have done more to tackle it while in power.
A development economist by training with degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard, Okonjo-Iweala has also had a 25-year career as a development economist at the World Bank, eventually becoming its number two.
She is on the Twitter board of directors and chaired Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.