Globalisation holds the key to pulling the world’s economy from the depths of Covid-19 despair. But the World Trade Organization, which helped set the rules and established a dispute mechanism to make the free and open movement of goods and services possible, has largely been weakened by American protectionism. There is hope for the body’s revival now that a new director general has been chosen; Nigerian economist Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is its first woman and African leader and much is riding on her negotiating prowess. She owes her appointment to new United States President Joe Biden’s belief in the necessity of multilateralism and alliances, although she has to still navigate the geopolitical uncertainty created by his country’s increased competition and rivalry with China. What are the 4 main challenges facing the new global trade chief? Dr Okonjo-Iweala, 66, would seem well-suited for the job. Although a development economist with little trade world experience, she has great understanding of what it takes to bring disparate sides together. She was the World Bank’s managing director and served as Nigeria’s finance and foreign ministers. Former US president Donald Trump’s administration held up her WTO appointment, claiming she was too inexperienced, but electoral defeat and Biden’s taking office led to consensus. She says her priority is to ensure the free and even flow of vaccines and medical supplies to help halt the Covid-19 pandemic and enable the global economy to recover. Greater transparency among member nations, updating of trade rules, and new agreements on fisheries and e-commerce are also high on her to-do list. But a multilateral-minded US president does not mean smooth sailing for the WTO; competition between the US and China is at the heart of the organisation’s troubles. The US economy is in tatters after Trump’s Covid-19 mismanagement and Biden’s attention is on domestic growth. American trade and technology conflicts with China will continue. New WTO chief faces tall order to reform trade body, Chinese experts say The Trump administration was largely hostile towards the WTO, claiming it was ineffective and biased, and held up negotiations, questioned rules and stopped the functioning of the dispute settlement mechanism. Tariffs imposed by Trump were perceived by affected countries as contravening WTO rules, while an increasing number of Americans believe China’s state-run companies and its designation as a developing nation despite being the world’s second-biggest economy give unfair advantage. Challenges abound for the WTO and there is no certainty its once-dominant position in global trade can be restored. But Dr Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment provides hope for the return of multilateralism and, with control of Covid-19, for a new energy for globalised movement of goods and people. Her negotiating skills will be crucial.