Vaccine nationalism will slow pandemic recovery & economic growth: New WTO chief

By Amirtha P S, Trainee Reporter
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Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, new Director General of the World Trade Organization.

The World Trade Organization’s (WTO) new chief, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala warned against ‘vaccine nationalism’ which would slow progress in ending the COVID-19 and could erode economic growth for all countries despite being rich or poor.

The new WTO head stated that her top priority was to make sure that the organization addresses the pandemic with more initiatives, saying that the members should accelerate efforts to remove export restrictions which are slowing trade needed for medicines and supplies.

The former Nigerian finance minister and senior World Bank executive Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was appointed in a consensus process and will start her new job on March 1.

“The WTO can contribute so much more to helping stop the pandemic. No one is safe until everyone is safe. Vaccine nationalism at this time just will not pay, because the variants are coming. If other countries are not immunized, it will just be a blowback. It’s unconscionable that people will be dying elsewhere, waiting in a queue, when we have the technology,” Ms. Okonjo-Iweala stated.

Several studies have found that the global economy would lose about $9 trillion in potential output if poor countries were unable to get their populations vaccinated quickly, and about half of the impact would be borne by rich countries.

The WTO’s new chief has warned that nationalism on vaccines can impact the international community both on human health and economic basis. Further, she added that, before the very important ministerial conference, WTO aims to find a solution as to how the organization can make vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics accessible equitably and affordably to all countries, specifically to poor countries.

Ms. Okonjo-Iweala acknowledged the Biden administration’s contribution to the World Health Organization (WHO) effort to ensure a broader distribution of vaccines. The incoming chief has shared the Biden administration’s concerns about the need to reform the WTO’s Appellate Body but said that it would not be an easy process.

“This is the jewel in the crown of the WTO, and we need to restore it. The dispute settlement body has been paralyzed since last year after the administration of former US President Donald Trump refused to approve the appointment of more judges,” Ms. Okonjo-Iweala stated.

“I’m not daunted. I see a way forward. With the US administration being willing to engage, I think the way of working to try and get a solution will be different,” the WTO chief concluded. 

Also Read: WTO to welcome its 1st Woman and African leader soon

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