Dr (Mrs) Okonjo-Iweala was announced on Monday, February 15th 2021 as the Director General of the World Trade Organisation. She is the first female, and first African, and the 7th person to be appointed into the position. Her tenure, which is renewable, will start 1st March, 2021, will run until 31st August, 2025.
In her first press conference with journalists which held virtually shortly after the General Council meeting of the WTO last Monday, Dr Okonjo-Iweala fielded questions from journalists across the world who posed questions on her suitability for the job, her feelings on Trump administration’s rejection of her candidacy, the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on international trade, availability of vaccines, trade rules and measures, climate change in relation to trade and many more issues.
Before the question and answer session, Dr Okonjo-Iweala unveiled her agenda in a brief opening remark in which she said though honoured and humbled by her selection, she was assuming the position at a time of great uncertainty and challenge. Below is the full transcript of the video of the inaugural press conference posted on WTO website:
Opening remarks by Dr Okonjo-Iweala:
GOOD day to everyone wherever you are around the world. I want to thank you for being here. Let me say that a few short minutes ago the General Council of the WTO agreed by consensus on my selection as the 7th Director General of this organisation. I am deeply honoured and I am humbled by the support I have received from WTO members.
I will say that it is both exciting and daunting to be here because I take the reins of the WTO at a time of great uncertainty and challenge.
We have the twin shocks of the pandemic – the health side and the economic side – which is challenging so many including challenging livelihoods around the world and it has wrought economic diversification in many parts of the world. So, the WTO, at this point in time, is also facing so many challenges and it’s clear to me that deep and wide-ranging reforms are needed and as I said before, it cannot be business as usual at the WTO, we need to look at the priorities and I will speak to them in a moment.
Our priorities, we need to modernise our rules, we need to look at what the WTO can contribute to some of the present situations of the pandemic, we need to look at our procedures. So now, I’m part of the institution; so much need to be done that is why I talked about deep and wide-ranging reform; but of course, it will not be easy because we also have the issue of lack of trust among members which has built up over time, not just US and China or US and EU as many people want to say but also between developing and developed countries’ members and we need to work through that if we are to achieve the reforms that the WTO needs to achieve in order to be relevant in this modern age.
Trade is very important, and trade makes up 60% of GDP. It has grown by thousands of percentage points over time, and it’s very important if we are also to come out of this pandemic both in terms of helping to make sure there is a freer flow of medical goods and supply to deal with the public health emergency and also for the economic revival and sustainability recovery of the globe. Without trade, it cannot happen. Of course GDP growth contributes to trade, but also looking at some trade rules and liberalisation of trade can also contribute to faster GDP growth.
So, I think trade is very important for more size and when we look at the membership of the WTO, we must be mindful that whatever we do will benefit all members, not just big members or middle-sized but also small ones and small island economies. I think this is very important.
Now, let me speak very quickly to some of the priorities as I see them that I shared with the General Council. I think, first and foremost, we need to focus on the issue of Covid-19 and what can the WTO do to contribute to solutions? It needs to work with the WHO, with the Covac facility, with the act to accelerate activities with all these organisations that are trying to accelerate supplies and vaccines to poor countries.
The WTO, one, can look at export restrictions and prohibitions from members; the International Trade Centre says that almost a hundred members have these restrictions and prohibitions. How can we lift them and be very transparent about lifting them temporarily so that there will be a freer flow of goods?
Secondly, how can we also encourage finding what I call a third way, in which vaccines can be manufactured in many more countries while staking care that we don’t discourage research and innovation, which link to intellectual property rights. So this is an area of work. Then, we have the issue of the dispute settlement system which people call the jewel in the crown in the WTO. There is no point really in agreeing on more rules where the only place in the world where countries can bring trade dispute does not work, it’s paralysed. So, it is a priority to really reform that and take into account the inputs of all members to make sure we come up with the dispute settlement system that works for all.
There is a need to modernise the rules of the WTO and bring them up to 21st century issues. What do I mean by that? We have to look at the digital economy which has become so prominent during this pandemic, e-commerce is key and it’s 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 to complete the negotiations will be very important. Ditto, there are other types of negotiations and investment facilitation, domestic services regulations, etc. These all need to be looked at and we have a good chance of trying to come great with some of them.
I must mention the fishery subsidy’s negotiation which is key. Actually, that is perhaps one of the furtherest advances, as of now and it speaks to both sustainability of our oceans. It helps fulfil one of the SDG’s and there is a good chance that at MC12 which is a top priority for all the members. How do we have a Ministerial, the next Ministerial 12 that is successful, it provides the venue to conclude on some of these issues I have talked about, agreeing about how to stop the pandemic, even set a framework for future pandemics, agreeing on the fishery subsidy’s negotiations, ramping that up and the various other negotiations I mentioned.
There is one thing that is very important as a priority to me, it’s also the fact that e-commerce will help us to be more inclusive of women and micro, medium, and small enterprises. Trade is about people and we have to constantly keep that in front. How do we bring those who have been excluded or marginalised like women, owners of micro, medium, and small enterprises into the main scheme? This is also important and then, let me just mention quickly, traditional issues like agriculture should not be forgotten, issues of industrial subsidies, agriculture subsidies, special and differential treatment; these are all very difficult areas that perhaps down the line, we will definitely need to look into.
Then, there are also procedural issues; the ways that the bodies of the WTO work to make them much more efficient, I have said in my speech that we need to look at procedures for appointing the Director General, I think I’m, in a good shape having just been named, to talk a little bit and suggest that.
How can we also encourage finding what I call a third way, in which vaccines can be manufactured in many more countries while staking care that we don’t discourage research and innovation, which link to intellectual property rights. So this is an area of work. Then, we have the issue of the dispute settlement system which people call the jewel in the crown in the WTO. There is no point really in agreeing on more rules where the only place in the world where countries can bring trade dispute does not work, it’s paralysed. So, it is a priority to really reform that and take into account the inputs of all members to make sure we come up with the dispute settlement system that works for all.
Issues of how we make sure consensus does not stand in the way of innovation at the organisation and so on; a lot to do, but these were some of the things I pointed out as priority areas.
So let me stop it there. I should also perhaps end by saying strengthening of the secretariat; the secretariat of the WTO has very talented staff among the best you can find in the world of trade, so how to help them work better and support members better; these are some of the things that I think we should be looking at. Thank you.
Questions and Answers
Sherwin Bryce-Pease, South African Broadcasting Corporation: What additional way or responsibility do you feel, you coming into this position as the first woman and first African ever to hold the position of the DG, and, can you describe the emotions you felt when the USA administration of former USA, President Donald Trump, sought to block your appointment despite the clear mandate you enjoyed from the majority of powers?
Okonjo-Iweala: In two parts, I will take the later part first, because it happened earlier. I think I was quite surprised when that came at the decision-making meeting because there had been no indication previously that there was any problem with the US. I had two very good interviews with the authorities in the administration, so it was a surprise. But you know that is the way life works and when things happen you take them in your stride and you move on and so it was absolutely wonderful when the Biden/Harris administration came in and broke that logjam to join the consensus and gave me such a strong endorsement to my candidacy, so that has set a very good stage and to join the other 163 members to endorse the candidacy, I think it’s wonderful.
With respect to what do I feel, I do feel an additional burden, I can’t lie about that, being the first woman and the first African, means one will really has to perform. I’ve always said these are wonderful things, it is jaw-breaking. All credit to members for electing me and making real history, but the bottom-line is that if I want to really make Africa and women proud, I have to produce results and that is what my mind is at now; how do we work together with members to get better results?
Larry, The Guardian, London: Congratulations Madam Ngozi on your new post; you’ve got a big agenda there. I have two quick questions; one; how do you propose to set about breaking the logjam in the dispute settlement mechanisms that is key to getting into WTO upon running again? Secondly, 20 years ago this year, the WTO started developing around the trade negotiations, which was never really completed, what are you going do to do to revive that and to give the developing countries a sense that the WTO delivers for them?
Okonjo-Iweala: So with respect to the logjam in dispute settlement, Larry, you are absolutely correct; this is vitally important, as I said before this is really the key jewel in the crown of the WTO because it’s the only place in the world that countries can bring trade dispute that they have with each other; so it is imperative. How do we go about it? I think the one good thing that I will tell you is that every member agrees that the dispute settlement system needs reform. So that is already a good starting base from developing to developed countries to the United States to China, India, EU, everyone agrees. So, I think that’s what we need to do but they have various opinions about what types of reforms that are needed.
About how I will start about it? It’s to first try to work with members to tease out what the issues are with respect to the dispute settlement system, what are those reforms, what are the challenges they see, and what are those reforms they will like to see? Of course, there have been some proposals in the past by Ambassador Walker, and I said in my speech perhaps some of those proposals that we will build on. With respect to the appellate bodies, I think that is why most of the questions arise. So I will flesh out the reforms and try to systematise them and put them together, get members to agree on these and once they agree that these are the start-up reforms we put together a work programmes to implement those reforms and I hope we can take this to the Ministerial 12 which is estimated to take place by the end of the year. So we have a few months to try to work this and then I think it will take some time to really work it all out, but at least we should get a good start before the ministerial.
The second issue is the Development Round. Yes, I think the fact that the Development Round at Doha was never completed is also a little bit at the bottom of the lack of trust between developed and developing countries, because the developing countries perhaps feel this was for them and it was never completed.
I think what we need to do is to look at something possible, there were some areas where progress could still be made with respect to agricultural issues, for instance, public stockholding for food security, coming to agreement on that, issue on how to deal with cotton; so there are few issues that I think can be picked up, that are of concern to the developing countries and we can work on those under the agricultural mandate.
Obinna Chima, Thisday, Nigeria: What form of support should African countries expect from your leadership in advancing the African Continental Free Trade Agreement during your mandate?
Okonjo-Iweala: Thank you very much for that, Obinna, and it’s a very important question. Of course, as the DG, and the DG for all members, I must work to advance the interest of every single member. But that being said, Africa is at a unique juncture where it is implementing one of the largest free trade agreements in the world and it has a long-term vision of perhaps having a complete free trade area on the continent and so the issue is; what are the sticking points, where can the WTO be useful? Well, I want to say immediately that the WTO rules and WTO institution have been inspirations for the design of part of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, so the WTO has already lend its body of institutional knowledge and wisdom to help design this. But building on that we need to see what are the capacity constraints in implementing this; can we use aid for trade to support the secretariat of the AfCFTA? Can we find technical assistance where is needed to help break any logjams?
The second way the WTO is working on is an investment facilitation agreement. I think working, pushing that hard and see how we get investment into the continent will be very important and I will do absolutely everything to try and facilitate that. The continent also must do its part to make conditions hospitable for investments to come in, but I think for example if you look at the area of pharmaceutical products, we import more than 90 per cent of the pharmaceuticals we use on the continent.
So, how can we help facilitate investment so that we can have on the continent the ability to manufacture more of our medical products and commodities, and the WTO looking at what we can do on the investment side will be very, very important working with other organisations in partnership like the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the World Bank and so.
Hanna Monica, from Inside US Trade: You’ve talked about your initial priorities; what will be your first actions upon taking up your duties on the 1st of March? How do you plan to use the political momentum of your appointment in the near term?
Dr Okonjo-Iweala: Well, as soon as I get to Geneva in a couple of weeks, my first action will absolutely be to meet with all the ambassadors, start meeting with them because if we are going to move fishery subsidies, I need to talk to Ambassador Santiago Wales to find out what are the sticking points and which delegation needs to talked to, and where can I help you move that forward. So, I meet with the ambassadors to flesh out what is blocking some of the issues. In fact, you know there is also the possibility to get an agreement on exempting the World Food Programme for instance from export restrictions.
We are almost there but there is an issue with a couple of members, so I will like to visit them to find out all these and how we can move to have that cleared away and have that be a success. So, my main priority is to make those political visits. Then, of course, I would like to speak to the staff, thank the DDGs; the Deputy Directors-General have been doing a great job in running the place, thank them, meet with them and have a transition meeting with them so that once they are still there they can help me to get to grips with some of the important things at the secretariat. So, that will be my first. Then, shortly after that, I am going to be focusing on MC12 because this is so crucial, we don’t have much time to plan the next ministerial, and that ministerial will have to have several deliverables, so I want to start looking at that right away.
Shinglin of Xinhua News Agency, China: Congratulations, Dr Ngozi on your appointment. You have mentioned this issue already in your statement but I wonder if you’ll want to elaborate more on it. The COVID-19 is a stress test to many governments but it can also be an opportunity for the WTO to prove its relevance to the twenty first century realities. Dr Ngozi, you were chair of the Board of GAVI, I wonder if you have any concrete plan on how the WTO can help contribute to the fight against the pandemic in a more proactive way, especially against the so-called vaccine nationalism to ensure the free flow of vaccines across countries and their incredible distribution?
Dr Okonjo-Iweala: Thank you very much for that; yes, it is absolutely a top priority. I actually think that the COVID-19 is an opportunity for the WTO to have a successor and show what it can do both in the short term and long term.
In the short term, I want to look with staff at the monitoring function to see how many countries still have restrictions and prohibitions that impact medical commodities and look at those and see how the rules, you know, we have rules at the WTO that say look if you want to have this restrictions you have to notify, you have to be transparent and you have to declare the period when you phased them out, because they can only be temporary. So, this will be a top priority to see how we can encourage the lifting of those, by looking at what the monitoring function is showing us and then encouraging countries to do that. That will mean a freer flow of these commodities.
Secondly, with respect to vaccines, I have said that vaccine nationalism does not pay; I know that; I have been in politics in my country, I have been a minister, so when this kind of thing happened, it’s very natural for leaders and politicians to want to take care of their own population, there is nothing wrong with that. The problem we do have is that the pandemic is a problem of global commerce; so taking care of your population and being nationalistic with respect to vaccines won’t work this time because even if you get all of them vaccinated and then there is a country down the road that hasn’t done that, it will come back in the way of variants.
So, one of the things that one will like to do is to work very hard to see what the WTO can do under the trades agreement to use all the flexibilities possible to allow countries to manufacture available vaccines so that they can be more for poor countries quickly, and this will be a great support to the Covac facility which GAVI and the WHO have put together. Actually, the WHO, GAVI and SEPI have put together what is called the ACT accelerator which I mentioned in my speech; designed to speed up the availability of all these things to poor countries, so how can WTO support that by members exercising these flexibilities, and we have seen an example, I mentioned it in my speech; AstroZenita is already licensing the production, not contracting, licensing the production of its vaccines all around the world in many developing countries; the biggest facility is in India, the Serum Institute of India, which can produce a billion doses of vaccines. So more of these approaches, which I called the third way, I think that is what we need to focus on and that WTO can actively encourage and support.
Giorgio Leali of Politicio, USA: What are you as the DG, what role do you play in trying to find consensus between WTO members on the issue of protection of intellectual property rights, and how do you increase the supply of COVID-19 vaccines?
Dr Okonjo-Iweala: I want to be very proactive, I won’t be shy of saying that, because I think this issue is an issue of lives, we are losing lives in all countries all over the world but in poor countries, if we don’t act more lives will be lost. So, what I am going to try to do is meet with members alongside people who are having this argument about intellectual property issues, and try to see if we can find the third way simply because I think we can find a way to be very conscious that we need to encourage research and development. Because if we don’t, then, we won’t have more investments even look into at the variant of this.
I feel there’s a way to do that and at the same time, allow greater manufacture and that is what I refer to in the last point the licensing, the interesting thing is the pharmaceutical companies are already ahead of us so I think we should just look at what they are doing and support them to do it without rules and if we exercise the necessary flexibilities under the trades agreement we can do that.
Swiss News Agency: Congratulations, Dr Ngozi for your appointment. As a follow to the previous questions on intellectual property, you mentioned there that the trades agreement is on the table, a proposal for waivers for IP, for therapeutics, diagnostics and vaccines; you didn’t mention that one so far, so does that mean as the new DG, you won’t give so much importance to the try to tackle the deadlock between members on that proposition?
Dr Okonjo-Iweala: No, on the contrary, I am saying it will be a top priority for me, but what I am saying is that instead of the arguments and the deadlock, we can actually break the deadlock, and am actually hoping that I will engage on this as quickly as possible; am not saying it’s going to be easy, but I’ll like to sit with the members on each side and be able to listen to what they have to say and find a way to persuade them to come to agreement.
What I was saying is that, look, under the trades agreement, perhaps we can find sufficient flexibility. What developing countries are looking for is how can they get access to these products quickly and at an affordable price so that poor countries are not standing in line like they did with H1N1 when rich countries bought up all the vaccines and there were none; or for any other where poor countries, HIV drugs in the past where they have been in line for a few years; that is the objective, if we all agree on the objective, I think that is the important thing; if the objective is agreeable and acceptable, that poor countries should not wait in line and wait long to get access, because it is not even in the interest of the rich countries, then we can try to figure out a way to do this, and I am saying that I’ll like to be able to broker, by listening to both sides, what I call a third way in which without impinging on intellectual property, looking at the flexibilities that are available which I think will allow us to manufacture those vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics by working with the manufacturers of these, the pharmaceutical companies, I think we can do it.
Mikaku Yokoyama from Mainichi Newspapers, Japan: I have two questions. My first question is that some people worry that you don’t have enough experience in international trade, so what do you think about that claim, and do you have any idea? My second question, currently, the WTO is not working well so many countries are focusing on regional trade agreements, so what is the role of the WTO and could you tell me why think WTO is necessary?
Dr Okonjo-Iweala: Thank you, two very good questions. With regard to the worry on the issue of trade experience, I don’t think we should spend a long time on that. One hundred and sixty-two countries, prior to the blockage from the Trump administration, 162 felt I had enough experience to win the consensus, so I think that’s the key. My background speaks for itself, I have been working in the area of trade as a minister of finance, trade facilitation in Customs reported to me. I was the coordinating minister of the economy as well as minister of finance in Nigeria and I coordinated all the economic ministries, including trade.
So I think somewhere perhaps someone got the wrong impression, so that is not a key issue for me. And then if it is about trade negotiations I’m not a negotiator but I don’t think that what the WTO needs right now, if it were just skills for trade negotiations only, all the problems would have been solved because Geneva has no shortage of those skills either within the secretariat or among ambassadors. They have been there and the problems have not been solved so I think those who are saying this need to look at what is the situation, what is the problem and what does it need. What it needs is someone who has the capability to drive reforms, who knows the trade, and who does not want to see business as usual, and that is me.
Now, on the issue of WTO not working so well and the regional trade agreements, you are right, that because the rule book of WTO is not keeping up to date; regional trade agreements, bilateral agreements, have proliferated. Some of them have more innovations than we have at the WTO, but there is one important thing, the WTO is the only multilateral venue where every member can come together and it is far more cost-effective, economists are there having multilateral agreement than bilateral and regional, so I’m not saying those are not important, they are. But I think the WTO monitoring function is very important so it can monitor not just a group of countries but all countries, but all countries.
Multilateral negotiations are very important as you’ve seen yourself, just that the WTO has not been able to have any and we are going to have the fishery subsidies, as one that will hopefully come in and the WTO has the only place where countries members can bring their trade disputes. So it’s the only place in the world, that is a very important function and that is why we need to form the dispute settlements mechanism; so all on all the WTO has been of outermost benefits to its members including the big and rich countries over time because it has ensured fair, transparent rules of the game and a level playing field for the multilateral trading system that is still needed today and that is why the WTO is extremely important to underpin that fair, balanced transparent trading system.
Ana Swanson, New York Times, USA: Taking up on the question you just answered, what do you see as the path forward for reforming the appellate body?
Dr Okonjo-Iweala: Thank you. I think the reform of the appellate body is not going to be an easy one, but there have been specific criticisms of the appellate body and it looks to me like the work done by Ambassador Walker now show that the majority of members would like to see a two-step dispute settlement mechanism including the appellate body. But we need to talk to all members to make sure this is still the case.
That been said, there were specific criticisms of the appellate body, you know, overreaching the mandate that was agreed to by members kind of going to jurisprudence, trying to; it is supposed to settle disputes among members; so case law and all that, are not what it is supposed to be about. And so there are accusations and criticisms that it is doing that and that is beyond the mandate that members signed on to; that is a very specific criticism; and I think it is valid.
Then the time taken to reach agreements is supposed to be 90 days and now you have sometimes cases that go on for two years so on and so forth. Now, we have to be fair, cases today are much more complex than they were in the past. So that may account for some of the reason it’s been taking so much time but we need to look at that, there is no reason why we can’t come to a situation where the norm becomes to go back to the 90-day period and render these cases, the solutions or the agreements on how to solve them faster within those periods. So I am just giving you two instances of criticisms, very specific, which I think can be dealt with.
So, the path forward is to surface those criticisms to try to tackle them by eliciting the solutions that all members want and then finally to come with an appellate body that has the confidence of all.
Anniette Podrello, from the floor: Congratulations to you Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. I have two questions, the first question is really a small one; I just want to know how you want us to address you; Dr Ngozi, Dr Okonjo-Iweala; what is the best way for us to call you?
Dr Okonjo-Iweala: (Laughs) I think you should just call me Dr Ngozi
Okay, thank you. My second question; you have a very long list of priorities and things that you want to change or to work at WTO; of all that list what will be your priority for the first 100 days of your post?
Dr Okonjo-Iweala: The priorities will be one, working on solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic. What can WTO bring to help solve problems not only on the health side, but also on the economic side, looking at trade and how to further liberalise trade, and help trade going; the world economy to also bounce back further, so it can play a role on the health side and also economic side. It can also; I’ll also like to see a longer-term framework set up for response to pandemics, so not just solving these immediate problems, because I know we are going to have more pandemics in the future and I think the WTO should get with other international organisations like the WTO, GAVI, SEPI, even the World Bank, IMF and all those multilaterals to try to dictate the rules so that next time, we don’t spend time trying to figure out how to respond; it will just trigger a certain a set of actions.
So that is really a top priority. But following that, I would like us to work on the fisheries subsidy negotiation, I think there is a very strong chance to complete those, which have been going on for twenty years, and this is far too long; we need to be accountable to end these negotiations and end them well, because they are very important for the world, it needs sustainability for our fisheries in our oceans, so that is very, very, very important.
I think third, we’ll then be focusing on the dispute settlement mechanism and trying to set forward a pathway, a work programme, a set of reforms that can be agreed and pushed forward at MC12. So those are three top ones.
Then let me add that the digital economy and e-commerce negotiations are very dear to my heart and the simple reason is that I just see the blossoming of SMEs using online platforms to trade and to improve their lives and so I want us to see if we can make progress in that area.
Christianne Ovrik from EPA: Thank you very much, congratulations Dr Ngozi. I have a very similar question, but I wander whether we can take it one step further. What are the low hanging fruits on your 100 days agenda; do you think we’ll be able to tick off one of your very vast list of things that needs to be done in the next 100 days?
Dr Okonjo-Iweala: Yes, I think the low hanging fruits; one, preparing a very successful MC12 that will come out with outcomes, and within that, completing the fisheries subsidies. Well, you know, low hanging fruit may be a bit, maybe, people might say it is not as easy but I do feel it is within reach for us to agree on that.
Another low hanging fruit is dealing with the pandemic, I think we can come to some agreements on some of that and tick that off. The third one is agreeing the work programme for solving the disputes settlement mechanism. I am not saying solving it, just agreeing the work programme. I think we can get to MC12 with a work programme that will work.
Then a few other things like, can we get to agreement on exempting the World Food Programme, for instance, from export restrictions so that humanitarian endeavours of the WFP are not hampered, I think we can also push for that. So let me just stop there, those are four areas I think we can get results.
Jehanie from the floor, Radio France: Dr Ngozi, at the beginning of your statement, you were saying that it cannot be business as usual anymore, and I was wandering, do you think that it can be business as usual regarding the environment as well; one of the criticisms that was made at the WTO has always been lack of commitment to fighting climate change; I was wandering how will you make sure that recovery will be more sustainable?
Dr Okonjo-Iweala: Yes, I think that is really an important question; and I think we need to get back to some of the areas, you know, reviving negotiations on trading in environmental goods and services. I am trying to work with poor countries in particular on the transition so that any money spent will be used, as you said, to build back better. How do we green any assistance to countries so that it is spent in a way that greens the country and greens the economy; I think that is one area we can quickly take a look at.
And then I think issues of the logistics of trade, I come back to that; how can we encourage low carbon emissions, transportation of goods and services; we need to take a look at that, but also the issue of high carbon emitting goods themselves. How do we look at the issue of carbon taxes? For instance, I have argued in the past that for many countries, this is also a source of revenue, so it shouldn’t just be seen; I think you can make it more attractive to finance ministers by saying that look, this will kill two birds with one stone, particularly in developing countries; it will help you discipline high carbon emissions but also bring in revenues into the exchequer, into the purse, if you will. So, there are several actions that we need to look at that could be quite beneficial that I believe are good.
Don’t forget that the fisheries subsidy is also about sustainability and the environment, so if we deliver that, that’s another thing that adds to the whole environmental area. But on climate change, I am very keen, I just want to state that as we do this, we must make sure we don’t come up with disciplines that make developing countries feel that barriers are being put against trade of their products; and I believe we can handle this in a way that doesn’t do that.
John Zurocrust, Freelance: Good evening Dr Ngozi; I’ll like you to elaborate a little bit; how do you this licensing for vaccines and therapeutics and essential medicines can be done in a few short months through the WTO given that in some licensing agreements, developing countries are ending up paying more than developed countries?
Dr Okonjo-Iweala: Well, first of all, let me say that under no circumstances should there be licensing agreements that lead to developing countries paying more than developed countries; that is not at all the point. The point of having this is that there should be volume, you know, manufacturing in greater volume, so indeed it will be more accessible and affordable. So any agreement that result in developing countries paying more, I think, are not satisfactory and we have to go back to the manufacturers of those commodities to make sure that this is not the case and developing countries are not disadvantaged.
Now, I am not going to go really into weeds; I see how AstroZenica has been able to do this and it’s talking to many more countries in Latin America and Asia about this licensing. Johnson & Johnson is doing some contract manufacturing in South Africa, but in a meeting I attended a week ago, they talked about also looking at licencising. In this licensing they are very aware that the objective is not to penalise poor countries by charging them more; no, it is to help them get access quicker. What we have in the world is an absolute shortage of supply, and that is because the world has never manufactured, let’s take vaccines, it’s has never manufactured seven billion doses of vaccines. I have been in the vaccines business with GAVI; you know, this has never occurred, so there is a shortage of manufacturing capacity and to the extent that these companies can work in developing countries where there are possibilities. Many developing countries have said they have the space and the capacity, but they just want to come to agreement with these companies and I think that that should be done and can be done at costs that are very affordable to developing countries.
Poreirra from Brazil: What do you think can be achieved concerning agricultural subsidies during the next WTO Ministerial Conference?
Dr Okonjo-Iweala: Thank you very much. I talked a lot about innovative approaches and new rules for the digital economy, the MISMIS, climate change, but I said we should not forget about agriculture, because agriculture is a traditional area that is critically important, actually to many countries, both developed and developing and many emerging markets but very important to least developed countries.
But some of the issues in agriculture are quite thorny, they are not easy, for instance, I think the issue of domestic support and the mountain subsidies that are true under domestic support needs to be looked at. I think those are quite difficult issues that I am not sure ministerial will be the place. I am looking at the ministerial if we can start thinking, one, of some things that could be a win like the export restriction, lifting that on food, because this is very important to many countries, especially small island economies and others, and there have been restrictions on food; lifting the humanitarian restrictions on the WFP; these are small areas in agriculture where we might get agreement at the MC12.
But then we could look at a work programme on some of the other issues; we have to look at issues of domestic support tied to market access; so it is not going to be an easy chapter and I’ll see it being settled beyond this ministerial.
Florencia Cabonnie, Trade News, Argentina: What is the main value that your election brings to the WTO?
Dr Okonjo-Iweala: Thank you for that question. I think the main value is a fresh pair of eyes; someone who is different, and someone who will not accept the way business has been done all the time. So I think it’s a big advantage to come in fresh; to come in, as I said, with fresh eyes and fresh ears. I think that is what is needed. I think one has said that the definition of madness is doing the same thing you have done for years and knocking yourself against the wall doing the same things. So WTO cannot go on like that; it is too important an organisation and so bringing fresh energy, fresh vigour, seeing problems in a different light from the way they were seen, and seeing solutions more importantly; I think that’s what I’m going to bring, and I really relish that challenge, to try and bring a fresh perspective to solving problems.
Robert Boudograven, Netherlands: The European Commission seeks border adjustment measures for environmentally harmful goods and services, i.e, for carbon, to level the trade playing field. What is your view of these measures and how can the WTO help to harmonise climate friendly border adjustment measures?
Dr Okonjo-Iweala: Well, thank you. I think the issue of border adjustment measures is coming down the pipe from the EU, possibly from the US and other members. I was the co-chair of the Global Commission on Economy and Climate until a few days ago; co-chairing with Paul Paulman and Lord Nicholas Stern. So these are issues very dear to my heart. I think that measures that could help us lower carbon emissions are very important to think about; so border adjustment taxes; we should reflect on them but they are not very easy; issues of measurement; how you set them, how you monitor them; these are all very practical issues that we have to think about and making sure that they are applied in a way that is not discriminatory in any way to developing countries with respect to their trade. I think these are also issues we need to look at.
But yes, are there possibilities to look at further adjustment taxes down the line? Yes, we can do that but we should look at make sure they applied and measured and monitored in a way that is very fair to all members and does not cause some members to feel that they are being somehow harmed by such taxes
Roses Oduri, Arise News, Lagos, Nigeria: In your acceptance speech, you said that transparency is the lifeblood of the team and want to ask how you intend to get the member states to be more transparent in their practices going forward under your leadership?
Dr Okonjo-Iweala: Thank you; that is an excellent question; and I meant it; and I think the way to do it is through stronger monitoring. I accept that the monitoring function of the WTO, the monitoring function of the secretariat, could really be strengthened. You know, when you have a very strong monitoring function, then you are able to see what is going on within the membership; what are the policies that are being put in place and how do they comply with WTO rules; and then also using technology; I hope we can continue, the WTO has been using technology to try and get members to put all their new trade rules and regulations and whatever they are doing, like all these export prohibitions and restrictions, using the technology.
Now, some of the members don’t have the capacity, some least developed countries have said to me that they lack the capacity, and there we need to give them the help and support needed but there are some members who have the capacity but they are not doing it; they are not using these tools and they are not putting out what they are doing as transparently. There, we have to speak with them to actually find out what is the issue and how can the secretariat be helpful in trying to get them to do this. So that monitoring function is exceptionally important for that.