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Nigerian, South Korean women to vie for WTO leadership By Reuters

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Okonjo-Iweala poses outside a Nigerian diplomatic residence in Chambesy

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – Former Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and South Korean trade minister Yoo Myung-hee are the final candidates to head the World Trade Organization, ensuring the watchdog will have the first female leader in its 25-year history.

The WTO said on Thursday the two women were the remaining candidates for director-general after the field was cut from five to two, confirming what Reuters reported on Wednesday.

The winner will replace Brazilian Roberto Azevedo, who stepped down a year earlier than expected at the end of August.

The WTO, under fire by the U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration which froze its appeals body by blocking its appointment of judges, aims to find a successor for Azevedo by early November. It is also trying to navigate worsening U.S.-China trade relations.

“Both of the women that are in the final round are remarkably well-qualified. This is something on which everyone has agreed,” WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell told reporters, making the announcement at its Geneva headquarters.

Okonjo-Iweala, 66, a former Nigerian finance and foreign minister, is an economist and development specialist now serving as board chair of global vaccine alliance Gavi. She has said the WTO should play a role in helping poorer countries access COVID-19 drugs and vaccines.

Yoo, 53, South Korea’s trade minister, is pitching herself as a seasoned operator on trade in increasingly protectionist times after clinching deals with the United States, China and others, while supporting global trading rules.

Kenyan sports minister Amina Mohamed, Saudi royal court adviser Mohammad Al-Tuwaijri and British ex-international trade minister Liam Fox dropped out of the race after failing to garner sufficient backing from the WTO’s 164 members.

The WTO will hold a third and final selection round on Oct. 19-27, with a view to having a director-general in place by early November, when the U.S. presidential election also takes place.

“I don’t think the domestic political situation of any country has really entered into this at all, as far as I can tell,” Rockwell said when asked if the U.S. vote had had an impact.

The winning candidate will face formidable challenges with rising global tensions and protectionism during a COVID-induced slowdown, as well as pressure to drive reforms.

WTO negotiations on cutting subsidies on fishing are due to conclude in December, Rockwell said, adding: “It’s clear that whichever woman assumes this job will have a very full plate from day one.”

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Economy

Bank of Israel leaves rate unchanged, expands QE

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The Monetary Committee of the Bank of Israel, headed by Governor of the Bank of Israel Amir Yaron, has announced that it is leaving its key lending rate at 0.1%. This is despite the deepening economic recession in Israel as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, and the peak strength of the shekel. Before today’s decision, expectations derived from market data were 50% for an interest rate cut and 50% for no change.

The Monetary Committee did however also announce two measures designed to boost liquidity and credit in the Israeli economy. In the first, the Bank of Israel will increase its program to purchase government bonds on the secondary market by NIS 35 billion. This is in addition to the NIS 50 billion bond purchasing program announced in March this year.

The other measure is the provision of four-year loans to the banks at a fixed interest rate of negative 0.1%, against loans that the banks extend to small and micro businesses, provided that the interest rate on these loans does not exceed prime plus 1.3%, i.e. 1.9% at the current prime rate of 0.6%. This program will amount to NIS 10 billion, and will be in effect until the end of June 2021.

The Monetary Committee’s announcement states: “The Committee will expand the use of the existing tools, including the interest rate tool, and will operate additional ones, to the extent that it assesses that the crisis is lengthening and that it is necessary in order to achieve the monetary policy goals and to moderate the negative economic impact created as a result of the crisis.”

The Bank of Israel Research Department’s forecast outlines two possible scenarios, based on two levels of control of the coronavirus pandemic. In the greater-control scenario, in which control over the pandemic is achieved, GDP is expected to contract by 5% in 2020 and to grow by 6.5% in 2021. In the more serious scenario, growth is expected to be negative 6.5% in 2020 and just 1% in 2021. In 2021, the unemployment rate in the greater-control scenario is expected to be 7.8%, while In the more serious scenario it is expected to be 13.9%. The debt to GDP ratio in 2021 is expected to be 76% in the greater-control scenario and 83% in the more serious scenario.

The Monetary Committee notes that the inflation environment remains low. Inflation in the past 12 months is negative 0.7%, and one-year expectations from all sources remain below the lower bound of the 1-3% inflation target range. Short- and medium-term forward expectations have declined slightly since the previous interest rate decision, while long-term expectations remain anchored within the target range.

Published by Globes, Israel business news – en.globes.co.il – on October 22, 2020

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2020




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Sale of Teva’s Jerusalem tablets plant cancelled

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The real estate deal between Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. (NYSE: TEVA; TASE: TEVA) and the Levinstein group has finally be cancelled. News that the deal would be cancelled was first reported by “Globes” three months ago. Just two weeks later, Levinstein confirmed that it was in talks with Teva on the possibility of cancelling the deal or changing its terms.

The deal in question was for the sale of a property in Jerusalem’s Har Hotzvim industrial zone that housed Teva’s tablets factory until it was decided to end that activity as part of the major streamlining program that the company has been implementing in recent years in order to reduce its debt. In March 2019, Teva and Levinstein signed an agreement for the sale of the property for NIS 171 million. The deal was due to have been completed in June 2020, but completion was postponed to the third quarter of 2020. The property has 34,000 square meters of built space, with rights for 70,000 square meters.

The deal was signed with Levinstein Properties Ltd. and its parent company Meshulam Levinstein Contracting and Engineering Ltd. (TASE:LEVI), the division between them being 60% for the subsidiary and 40% for the parent company. The group planned to let the property for various uses, and to exploit the additional building rights. The two companies made advance payments to Teva in 2019 and paid purchase tax.

The Levinstein group notified the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange yesterday that “in the light of disagreements between the sides over actions that should be carried out before the property is handed over, the sides cancelled the agreement by mutual consent.” Teva will repay Levinstein the advance payments, and each side will bear its own costs. A mutual waiver of legal claims has been signed.

As “Globes” reported in July, as in many other cases in which attempts have been made to change the terms of signed agreements or cancel them altogether, because of the coronavirus crisis, Levinstein tried to alter or cancel its deal with Teva. Among other things, the question arose whether the site was contaminated, since it had been used for years for pharmaceuticals manufacture. After an inspection by the Ministry of Environmental Protection, however, Teva was given confirmation that there was no contamination of the land.




In the framework of the streamlining program, a nearby Teva plant for producing inhalers was also closed, and the property on which it stood was put up for sale. Teva sold the property to Vitania Ltd. (TASE:VTNA.B1 for NIS 107 million – a deal that has already been completed. Teva has managed to reduce its debt by $8.4 billion since the streamlining program began, but total debt at the end of the second quarter was still a high $26.3 billion.

Published by Globes, Israel business news – en.globes.co.il – on October 22, 2020

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2020




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Yedioth Ahronoth plans firing 150-200 journalists

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With the Covid-19 crisis hitting the print media hard, Yedioth Ahronoth is to implement major streamlining measures including laying off 150-200 journalists, Sources close to the matter have told “Globes” that the newspaper’s workers committee and the Israel Journalists Association are holding a Zoom meeting this evening at which employees will be told about management’s plans and options to oppose them.

A message from the worker’s committee to employees said, “Yedioth Ahronoth Group’s management has informed us that of their intention to make across the board cuts in the workforce in which many of the Group’s journalists are expected to be dismissed. Management intends going ahead with firing many dozens of journalists throughout the Group in the coming weeks and for this purpose a number of meet5ings have been fixed for talks with the workers committees and representatives of the Journalists Union.”

Yedioth Ahronoth Group has three divisions. The digital division, which was the most profitable before the crisis and where no cuts and layoffs are expected, though some jobs may be merged. Most of the cuts will be in the daily newspaper division and the media division.

Even before the crisis, the print media was losing ground to the Internet and the Covid-19 pandemic has simply hastened the process.

Journalists at Yedioth Ahronoth and its sister financial newspaper Calcalist have a collective agreement protecting them from layoffs until February 2021. It is not clear whether the newspaper intends respecting the agreement but in any event the journalists are only protected for a few more months.

The Journalists Union declined to comment on the report and no response was forthcoming from the office of Yedioth Ahronoth Group CEO Zion Peretz.

Published by Globes, Israel business news – en.globes.co.il – on October 12, 2020

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2020




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