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The incoming head of the World Trade Organization says getting countries to drop export restrictions on vaccines and medical supplies needed to fight the coronavirus pandemic will be one of her top priorities.
Nigerian economist Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is set to become the WTO’s director-general on March 1. She’s the first woman and first African to lead the group that governs trade rules between countries.
The pandemic has had a profound impact on global trade, which “dropped precipitously in 2020,” Okonjo-Iweala tells NPR’s Michel Martin on All Things Considered.
Overall, the global economy contracted by 4.3% in 2020, according to the World Bank. The International Monetary Fund predicts the global economy will grow by 5.5% in 2021. But variants of the coronavirus and vaccine rollout complications make those forecasts uncertain.
“Until we solve the public health issues of the pandemic, we can’t really get the economic issues settled,” Okonjo-Iweala says.
Okonjo-Iweala talked with NPR about the WTO’s role in improving access to vaccines, areas where she feels the WTO needs reform and being the first woman to head the organization. Here are excerpts of the interview, edited for clarity and length.
Do you feel that the WTO can influence this issue in the short term?
How can the WTO help? Well, when people think of vaccines, when they think of therapeutics and diagnostics, these are also traded goods. And to the extent that countries, WTO members, have export restrictions or even prohibitions on the exports of these goods, this helps hold back the recovery.
So trying to use the rules to monitor strongly and encourage members to drop these restrictions is very important. Up to a hundred members still have them. So I believe the WTO can contribute strongly by trying to get these rules dropped, encouraging a freer flow of goods, helping to exercise the needed flexibilities to encourage more manufacture of…
Go to the news source: Vaccine Export Controls Slow Recovery : Coronavirus Updates : NPR