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CNB News – Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was appointed Monday to head the World Trade Organization, becoming the first woman and first African to take on the role amid disagreement over how the body decides cases involving billions in sales and thousands of jobs.

Okonjo-Iweala, 66, was named director-general by representatives of the 164 countries that make up the WTO, which deals with the rules of trade between nations.

She said in a statement that her first priority would be to quickly address the economic and health consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and to “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,” she said.

The appointment came after new United States President Joe Biden endorsed her candidacy, which had been blocked by former President Donald Trump.

On Monday, the US delegate to the WTO said he was “eager” to work with Okonjo-Iweala.

The appointment came after U.S. President Joe Biden endorsed her candidacy, which had been blocked by former President Donald Trump.

South Korean trade minister Yoo Myung-hee had withdrawn her candidacy, leaving Okonjo-Iweala as the only choice. Her predecessor, Roberto Azevedo, stepped down Aug. 31, a year before his term expired.

Okonjo-Iweala is the first African official and the first woman to hold the job.

She has been Nigeria’s finance minister and, briefly, foreign minister, and has had a 25-year career at the World Bank as an advocate for economic growth and development in poorer countries. She rose to the No. 2 position of managing director, where she oversaw $81 billion in development financing in Africa, South Asia, Europe and Central Asia. She made an unsuccessful bid for the top post in 2012 with the backing of African and other developing countries, challenging the traditional practice that the World Bank is always headed by an American.

Serving as special envoy for the African Union to mobilize financial support for the fight against COVID-19, she urged richer countries to support a two-year standstill on debt service for indebted countries and proposed easing economic sanctions on Sudan and Zimbabwe for health reasons.

Okonjo-Iweala has a bachelor’s degree in economics from Harvard University and a Ph.D. in regional economics and development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

 

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