Nigeria: Okonjo-Iweala Tasks WTO Members On Reform, Improved Access to Vaccines

26 November 2021

The Director General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, yesterday urged members of the global trade body who would be gathering next week in Geneva for Ministerial Conference 12 (MC 12) to put in progress a process for the reforming of the WTO.

Okonjo-Iweala said this yesterday, during a virtual media briefing organised by the WTO, where she advised the ministers to improve the availability of COVID-19 vaccines to low income countries and address the lingering issues around fisheries subsidies and agriculture.

She said: "The MC12 comes up in five days' time. But I will like to say that the outcome is uncertain and the coming week will tell us a great deal about what will happen as far as the WTO and its future is concerned; what we need to do and the process we need to put in place to modernise and reform the WTO.

"Nothing on the ministerial conference (agenda) is really more important than the response of the ministers on the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a problem on global commerce and is one area which we need a multilateral approach.

"We hope that ministers will come up with response to the pandemic including a middle ground that will help us to make impact on this area. We need a response that will ramp up more regionally diverse productions, which addresses the problem of inequity in vaccines.

"A situation in which 66 per cent of the persons in developed countries are vaccinated versus the three per cent in low income countries (that have received the vaccines) is not really acceptable. It is not good for the world and for those countries.

"This inequity of access is a sour point and I think we need to figure out how to deal with. We have been working with manufacturers to persuade them to diversify their investments to emerging markets and developing countries where there are opportunities.

"We can get more people vaccinated either by swapping contracts or encouraging the donations to go to places where they are really needed."

The WTO's director general identified three elements that made up credible response to the pandemic to include monitoring of the supply chains; export restrictions and prohibitions; working with manufacturers by diversifying production and transparency of production and contracts and the last part is on technology transfer with regard to intellectual property.

She said the, "point we are trying to make to the ministers right now is that an all, or nothing, attitude will not get us to where we will want to go. It means that potentially we will all walk away with nothing. We will want to see everyone coming to a good middle ground which we think is possible. But it is for the members to make the efforts."

Okonjo-Iweala also commented on the protracted negations on fisheries subsidies that has lasted for over 20 years and implored the ministers to achieve a closure on the matter.

"We have seen some momentum on this in recent weeks. We have seen issues narrowed more than we have ever seen them before. But we are definitely not out of the woods yet. We are hoping that we can get a closure about these fisheries subsidies after two decades. But there still outstanding areas with respect to special and differential treatments that ministers will have to close when they come. We are keeping our fingers crossed that they will come to some good agreements.

"The text (on fisheries negotiation) has gone out to the ministers with requisite brackets and we hope that they will be able to close those brackets," she said.

She also pointed out that it would be important to have a multilateral decision on carbon pricing than the current fragmented approach that is a little problematic for businesses.

"It will be a good thing if we could get a global carbon price. We have to task the IMF, World Band, the OECD and the WTO to work together to develop a methodology and an approach to this. The IMF, WTO and the OECD are collaborating on this and have put a team together to try and begin thinking through this," the director general said.

She also said that the moratorium on electronic transmissions would be left to the ministerial conference to agree on whether they would continue with interim solutions or be able to come to an agreement. "Again, this is a difficult one that has been going. On the brighter side we have got the e-commerce negations that are going on with 86 members to decide on rules that will underpin digital trade," Okonjo-Iweala said.

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