Okonjo-Iweala: We ‘ll Ensure Equitable Distribution Of Vaccines To Poor Countries

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From Segun Amure, (The New Diplomat’s Abuja Bureau)

The new Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala on Monday said that the trade body would ensure maximum production and distribution of vaccines, therapeutic and diagnostics available in an equitable and affordable fashion to all, particularly to poor countries.

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Iweala who spoke while addressing a press conference in Washington after the WTO General Council confirmed her appointment as the head of body avowed that WTO will contribute so much to help stop the pandemic.

The former Nigerian Minister of Finance urged WTO members to accelerate efforts and lift export restrictions which has slowed down trade in needed medicines and supplies.

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She said: “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.” “It’s unconscionable that people will be dying elsewhere, waiting in a queue, when we have the technology.”

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She warned against “vaccine nationalism” as it would slow down progress in ending the COVID-19 pandemic and could erode economic growth for all countries – rich and poor.”

She further said, “Both on a human health basis, as well as an economic basis, being nationalistic at this time is very costly to the international community,”

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Ms. Okonjo-Iweala said she was gladdened 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.

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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.

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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.”

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