Statement by future WTO leader Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the future leader of the World Trade Organization (WTO), said that the organization should return to the goal of improving people’s living standards and promoting poor countries’ access to covid-19 vaccines.
The Nigerian, the first woman and the first African to lead the WTO, said in an interview with the news agency France Presse (AFP) that the organization is “too important to be backward, paralyzed and dying”.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who will lead the WTO from March 1, outlined the immediate objectives: to ensure that vaccines are produced and distributed worldwide, not only in rich countries, but also to resist the trend towards protectionism that has grown with the pandemic, so that free trade can contribute to economic recovery.
“I believe that the WTO can contribute more to solving the covid-19 pandemic, helping to improve access to vaccines for poor countries,” she said.
“It is really in the interest of each country to see everyone being vaccinated,” she added.
Some countries, such as India and South Africa, call for exemption of intellectual property rights over covid-19 vaccines to make them more accessible and allow for faster implantation. Ngozi wants to avoid a discussion between WTO members and approaches the problem from a different angle.
“Instead of spending time discussing, we should look at what the private sector is doing,” with licensing agreements to allow vaccine production in several countries, she added, citing the case of the British laboratory AstraZeneca in India.
According to the future leader, the WTO must also work towards its primary objective of “improving the standard of living” in poor countries and “creating decent jobs for people”, with “trade certainly having a role to play in the economic recovery. ”.
According to Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, negotiators are the WTO’s Achilles’ heel.
“Geneva is full of negotiating experts, but the problems have not been solved, they have gotten worse”, because, “for them, it is a matter of winning or not losing, and that is why they are blocking each other.”
The choice of the Nigerian to lead the WTO – an institution that is almost paralyzed – was already expected after the withdrawal, on the last 5th, of the candidacy of the South Korean Trade Minister, Yoo Myung-hee, the only one who still disputed the position with Okonjo-Iweala.
After several months of stalemate, the new US government led by Joe Biden preferred to lift the obstacles to the nomination of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, giving his support to the candidacy of the African.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was Nigeria’s finance minister twice and headed the country’s diplomacy for two months. She began her career in 1982 at the World Bank, where she worked for 25 years. In 2012, she failed to become president of the financial institution, which chose South Korean-born Jim Yong Kim for the job.
The new WTO leader was born in 1954 in Nigeria, but spent much of her life in the United States, where she studied at two prestigious universities, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard.
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