WTO’s new chief warns against ‘vaccine nationalism’

17 February 2021 | Ekonomie
Andrea Shalal – Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the World Trade Organisation's incoming chief, has 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, the first African and first woman to become WTO chief, told Reuters her top priority was to ensure the organisation 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.

‘UNCONSCIONABLE’

"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 immunised, 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," she said.

Okonjo-Iweala said studies showed that the global economy would lose US$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." – Nampa/Reuters

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