WTO Director General outlines plans to rejuvenate global trade

The newly appointed Director General of the World Trade Organization, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has pledged to among other things, facilitate the lifting of export restrictions among member countries to enable easier movement of goods during this COVID-19 period.

This forms part of her vision to rejuvenate and strengthen the World Trade Organization to enable it effectively tackle ongoing issues.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about an unprecedented disruption to the global economy and world trade, as production and consumption have been scaled back across the globe.

Global trade recorded a 5% drop in the third quarter of 2020 compared with the same period last year, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s new Global Trade Update published in October last year.

Since the emergence of the pandemic, many countries have imposed restrictions on their import and export processes, including the closure of borders and airports as a means to prevent the spread of the disease.

Although several countries like Ghana eased their restrictions along the lines, the new strain of the virus is still creating a shaky ground for economic activities across the globe.

But the newly appointed Director General of the World Trade Organization, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, believes there should be temporal rules that can ease the prohibitions on imports and exports among countries in this COVID-19 era.

“We need to focus on the issue of COVID-19. The WTO needs to work with the WHO and any other organizations that are trying to accelerate supplies and vaccines to poor countries. The WTO can look at export restrictions and prohibitions from members. The International Trade Centre says there are almost still a 100 members who have these restrictions and prohibitions. How can we lift them and be very transparent about it, making them temporary so that there’ll be a better flow of goods?”

Modernizing WTO rules

She also believes a change in the laws governing the WTO to suit current trends will go a long way to facilitate the digitalization of trade among countries.

“There is the need to modernize the rules of the WTO and bring them up to 21st-century issues. We have to look at the digital economy which has become so prominent during this pandemic. E-commerce is key, and it is going to grow in leaps and bounds as we move on. WTO does not presently have rules that underpin e-commerce so how to put those rules in place will be very important.”

COVID-19 vaccines

Okonjo-Iweala said that while economic recovery was reliant on trade, solving public health challenges also required “good trade.”

According to her, ramping up global efforts to combat COVID-19 was also a priority.

While focusing on the need for countries to have the COVID-19 vaccines, she asked, “How can we also encourage finding a third way in which vaccines can be manufactured in many more countries whiles taking care that we don’t discourage research and innovation which is linked to intellectual property rights?”



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