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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - GENEVA: Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was appointed Monday as the first female and first African head of the beleaguered World Trade Organization, saying a stronger WTO would be vital for the global coronavirus recovery.
The WTO called a virtual special general council meeting at which member states officially selected the former Nigerian finance minister and World Bank veteran as the global trade body’s new director-general. She will take up her post on March 1 and her term, which is renewable, will run until Aug. 31, 2025.
The near-paralyzed institution desperately needs a kick-start — something Okonjo-Iweala immediately addressed after being confirmed in the job.
“A strong WTO is vital if we are to recover fully and rapidly from the devastation wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic,” the 66-year-old economist said in a statement.
“I look forward to working with members to shape and implement the policy responses we need to get the global economy going again.
“Our organization faces a great many challenges but working together we can collectively make the WTO stronger, more agile and better adapted to the realities of today.”
South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee had been the only other remaining contender for the post but pulled out when it became clear that new US President Joe Biden was swinging firmly behind Okonjo-Iweala’s candidacy.
The organization has been leaderless since Brazilian career diplomat Roberto Azevedo stepped down last August, a year ahead of schedule.
The process of picking one of eight candidates to succeed him had been expected to wrap up by November, but the administration of former US president Donald Trump blocked the consensus to appoint Okonjo-Iweala.
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 organization mired in multiple crises and struggling to help member states navigate the severe global economic slump triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.
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