Incoming WTO head warns 'vaccine nationalism' could slow pandemic recovery

By Andrea Shalal WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The World Trade Organization's incoming chief on Monday warned against 'vaccine nationalism' that would slow progress in ending the COVID-19 pandemic and could erode economic growth for all countries - rich and poor. Okonjo-Iweala told Reuters her top priority was to ensure the WTO does more to address the pandemic, saying members should accelerate efforts to lift export restrictions slowing trade in needed medicines and supplies. The former Nigerian finance minister and senior World Bank executive was appointed on Monday in a consensus process and starts her new job on March 1.

Reuters February 16, 2021 02:05:44 IST
Incoming WTO head warns 'vaccine nationalism' could slow pandemic recovery

Incoming WTO head warns vaccine nationalism could slow pandemic recovery

By Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The World Trade Organization's incoming chief on Monday warned against "vaccine nationalism' that would slow progress in ending the COVID-19 pandemic and could erode economic growth for all countries - rich and poor.

Okonjo-Iweala told Reuters her top priority was to ensure the WTO does more to address the pandemic, saying members should accelerate efforts to lift export restrictions slowing trade in needed medicines and supplies.

The former Nigerian finance minister and senior World Bank executive was appointed on Monday in a consensus process and starts her new job on March 1.

"The WTO can contribute so much more to helping stop the pandemic," Okonjo-Iweala said in an interview at her home in a suburb of Washington.

"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 blow back," she said. "It's unconscionable that people will be dying elsewhere, waiting in a queue, when we have the technology."

Okonjo-Iweala said studies showed that the global economy would lose $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.

"Both on a human health basis, as well as an economic basis, being nationalistic at this time is very costly to the international community," she said.

"A very top priority for me would be to make sure that prior to the very important ministerial conference ... that we come to solutions as to how the WTO can make vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics accessible in an equitable and affordable fashion to all countries, particularly to poor countries,"

Okonjo-Iweala said she was heartened by the Biden administration's contribution to the World Health Organization effort to ensure broader distribution of vaccines, and what she called a "fantastic" conversation with trade advisers in the U.S. Trade Representative's office.

"I think our interests and priorities are aligned. They want to bring the WTO back to (its) purpose," she said. "It's about people. It's about inclusivity. It's about decent work for ordinary people," she said.

She said she shared the Biden administration's concerns about the need to reform the WTO's Appellate Body, but said that would not be a quick or easy process.

"This is the jewel in the crown of the WTO, and we really need to restore it," she said. The dispute settlement body has been paralyzed since last year after the administration of former U.S. President Donald Trump refused to approve the appointment of more judges.

Okonjo-Iweala said there were clearly differences among members, but progress was possible, especially given the shift in tone and approach of the Biden administration.

"I'm not daunted. I see a way forward," she said. "With the U.S. administration being willing to engage ... I think the way of working to try and get a solution will be different."

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Writing by Andrea Shalal and Emma Farge; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Grant McCool)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

Updated Date:

TAGS:

also read

France, Germany to agree to NATO role against Islamic State - sources
| Reuters
World

France, Germany to agree to NATO role against Islamic State - sources | Reuters

By Robin Emmott and John Irish | BRUSSELS/PARIS BRUSSELS/PARIS France and Germany will agree to a U.S. plan for NATO to take a bigger role in the fight against Islamic militants at a meeting with President Donald Trump on Thursday, but insist the move is purely symbolic, four senior European diplomats said.The decision to allow the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to join the coalition against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq follows weeks of pressure on the two allies, who are wary of NATO confronting Russia in Syria and of alienating Arab countries who see NATO as pushing a pro-Western agenda."NATO as an institution will join the coalition," said one senior diplomat involved in the discussions. "The question is whether this just a symbolic gesture to the United States

China's Xi says navy should become world class
| Reuters
World

China's Xi says navy should become world class | Reuters

BEIJING Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday called for greater efforts to make the country's navy a world class one, strong in operations on, below and above the surface, as it steps up its ability to project power far from its shores.China's navy has taken an increasingly prominent role in recent months, with a rising star admiral taking command, its first aircraft carrier sailing around self-ruled Taiwan and a new aircraft carrier launched last month.With President Donald Trump promising a US shipbuilding spree and unnerving Beijing with his unpredictable approach on hot button issues including Taiwan and the South and East China Seas, China is pushing to narrow the gap with the U.S. Navy.Inspecting navy headquarters, Xi said the navy should "aim for the top ranks in the world", the Defence Ministry said in a statement about his visit."Building a strong and modern navy is an important mark of a top ranking global military," the ministry paraphrased Xi as saying.