Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO) has affirmed that despite differences and disputes of member countries, 75 percent of world trade takes place on the organization’s rules which members adhere to.
She revealed this during a pre-recorded interview where mentioned that the WTO creates a level playing field for all its members and institutes rules and regulations that guides their conduct during trade activities, adding that since her appointment, she has had to champion series of reforms and reviews of policies, and rules as well as instituting new regulations to guide the conduct of members.
“We have been maintaining a level playing field despite criticisms, and have also done the completion of a multilateral negotiation which has not been done in a long time while addressing some agreements that needed to be updated, some rules that needed to be reviewed and new ones that needed to be instituted,” she said.
She said as the organization looks to have its meeting June 13th in Geneva, issues such as pending negotiations and dispute settlement mechanisms will be addressed and reviewed appropriately.
Highlighting one of such reforms and negotiations, Okonjo-Iweala said the fishery subsidies which has been ongoing and would have been completed in November but was paused due to the Omicron variant outbreak but will now be addressed and completed.
“260 million people depend on fisheries in the world, if that negotiation is completed we will stop overcapacity and overfishing which is almost at 50 percent,” she said.
The DG who was appointed March 1st 2021, said although there have been challenges, disputes and differences among member organizations, the WTO has not lost its respect or support as members are not found wanting in paying their dues.
Okonjo-Iweala said beyond facilitating trade among member countries, the organization is being responsive to the pandemic by working very hard on several facets which includes supply chain issues, research and innovation, raw material availability, etc.
She revealed that most times, people focus on patent rights and intellectual property rights ignoring the fact that a smooth supply chain, manufacturing capacity and technical transfer is necessary.
“Supply chain of vaccines is very complicated with over 280 components, if there is an export restriction on one of these products it means the vaccines cannot be produced, we have a monitoring and transparency system where vaccine manufacturers can help producers see what is happening with the supply chain,” she said.
The DG noted that the organization is working to make its members reduce the number of export restrictions which was 119 at the start of the pandemic but has been reduced to 35.
This she says has helped boost production which addresses vaccine inequity issues which does not serve anyone and can also lead to multiplicity of variants.
As the first woman and the first African to be appointed, the DG described herself as an optimist and a goal oriented person which has helped her focus on the goal and also manage criticisms from members who are not satisfied with the organization’s activities.
She added that her passion for the work makes all her words and actions tilt heavily towards getting the work done and achieving set goals.
“As a woman in leadership, challenges will arise especially if you are a woman of color, you cannot be too soft or too stringent, you just have to maintain a balance,” she said.