WTO Members Must Act Differently to Make Impact- Okonjo-Iweala

On her first day in office as the director-general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) yesterday, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has said the organisation can only deliver results if members “accept we can do things differently.”

Okonjo-Iweala in her inaugural address to the WTO General Council stressed the need to do things differently in order to achieve reforms necessary to keep the WTO relevant, adding that high expectations for her tenure can only be met if members were willing to compromise and reach agreements.

She suggested that prospects for a successful Twelfth Ministerial Conference would be enhanced if members target a manageable number of deliverables for this year, and set up longer work programmes to address issues that cannot realistically be resolved within that timeframe.

“It cannot be business as usual. We have to change our approach from debate and rounds of questions to delivering results. You don’t talk to each other. This approach has to change. We have to be more accountable to the people we came here to serve.

“I have noticed that the world is leaving the WTO behind. Leaders and decision makers are impatient for change. Several trade ministers said to me that if things don’t change, they will no longer attend the ministerial because it is a waste of their time. I have noticed that more and more of the work and decision making that should be undertaken at the WTO is being done elsewhere because there is an increasing loss of confidence in the ability of the WTO to produce results. But there is hope. If we all accept that we can no longer do business as usual, that will help us create the parameters for success,” she stated

Starting with swift action to curb harmful fisheries subsidies, and to help scale up COVID-19 vaccine production and distribution. The new head of the WTO noted the need to prioritise action on COVID-19 both for the immediate and longer term and focus on completing fisheries subsidies negotiations before the middle of the year.

“Delegations want the fisheries subsidies negotiations concluded, they want reform of the dispute settlement system including restoration of the appellate body. They want action on agriculture, on market access, domestic support, existing mandates such as PSH, SSM and cotton.

“They also want action on industrial subsidies to SOEs and SDT. Without neglecting the questions raised on the legal status of JSIs, delegations want forward movement on JSIs especially e-commerce, services domestic regulation, investment facilitation, and MSMEs. We must agree the road map for reform of the dispute settlement system and prepare a work programme to achieve this which can be endorsed at MC12.

On COVID-19, Okonjo-Iweala noted that people were dying in poor countries where there is no access to vaccine saying, “there is serious supply scarcity and some countries are out bidding COVAX and diverting supplies. The world has a normal capacity of production of 3.5billion doses of vaccines and we now seek to manufacture 10billion doses.

“This is just very difficult, so we must focus on working with companies to open up and license more viable manufacturing sites now in emerging markets and developing countries. We must get them to work with us on know how and technology transfer now. There will soon be a world manufacturing convention where we can seek to build this partnership. I also hope we can initiate a dialogue and information exchange between us and representatives of manufacturers associations from developing and developed countries.”

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