[Ip-health] Health Policy Watch: Gavi Board Chair Okonjo-Iweala Is Recommended As Next World Trade Organization Director-General – US Opposition Stalls Final WTO Decision

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Wed Oct 28 13:54:36 PDT 2020


Gavi Board Chair Okonjo-Iweala Is Recommended As Next World Trade
Organization Director-General – US Opposition Stalls Final WTO Decision
Analysis <https://healthpolicy-watch.news/category/content-type/analysis/>
28/10/2020 • Elaine Ruth Fletcher
<https://healthpolicy-watch.news/author/elaine-fletcher/> & James Hacker

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, board chair of Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance, on
Wednesday was named as the favored candidate to be the next World Trade
Organization director-general  – after a months-long WTO campaign process
and in a decisive moment of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But as the United States came out in favor of the Republic of Korea’s Yoo
Myung-hee, stalling the final consensus-building process, WTO officials
said that a final decision will have to go before the full 164-member
General Council of member governments on November 9 – a week after the US
presidential elections.

The US opposition to a recommendation by the WTO’s “Troika” selection
committee, is a double slap in the face since Iweala is a dual US-Nigerian
citizen. She also comes to the table with strong global health credentials
at a time in which the WTO is being asked to broker sensitive issues of
patent rights versus medicines access.

The new WTO Director General will play a critical role in negotiating the
rough waters ahead between countries in the global South that want to
create a broad “patent waiver” for COVID-19 health products and high-income
countries in the G7 and the European Union that oppose such a move. Iweala,
a former Nigerian Trade Minister, is serving as a special African Union
with mobilizing economic support for the fight against the pandemic.

In the final, late September round of her campaign, Iweala made it clear
that she sees WTO as playing a pivotal role in pandemic response, saying
that “trade can contribute to public health and the WTO can lead”
<https://twitter.com/NOIweala/status/1310986911117443072?s=20>.  While she
has also issued positive signals to business leaders, she also   tweeted
<https://twitter.com/NOIweala/status/1310194495808512000?s=20> that “the
health of populations is the business of the WTO… The world can’t wait WTO
must play a central role in the COVID-19 supply chain.”

India and South Africa’s Bid for A WTO “Waiver” on COVID-related
Intellectual Property

Not since the HIV/AIDS crisis of the late 1990s, has the WTO been so much
in the health limelight. India and South Africa recently proposed
<https://healthpolicy-watch.news/77719-2/> that the WTO agree to a blanket
“waiver” on the WTO trade-related agreements (TRIPS) rules regarding patent
and copyright restrictions and trade secrets related to any COVID-19 health
products and equipment for the duration of the pandemic. This, they argued,
would enable easier production, export and access to generic versions of
not only drugs but vital equipment like respirators and diagnostic tests.

The fact that the European Union has lined up in favor of Iweala’s candidacy
widespread confidence among skittish developed countries that she will be
able to steer contentious WTO debates in a fair and balanced manner.


Indeed, among the 27 delegations that spoke at today’s WTO meeting, only
the US went on record opposing Iweala’s candidacy – saying that her Korean
rival had more trade experience and could “hit the ground running.”.

“The Troika presented to the membership their assessment of the candidate
that had th best chance of attaining the consensus of the [WTO]
membership — that
candidate is Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria,” said said WTO’s director
of information, Keith Rockwell, at the Wednesday briefing. “One delegation
could not support the candidacy of Dr Ngozi, and said they would continue
to support South Korea’s Yoo Myung-hee. That delegation was the United
States of America.

”The US says that they supported Minister Yoo because of her 25 years of
trade experience – that she would be able to hit the ground running,”
Rockwell said. “They said that they could not endorse Dr. Ngozi.”

He added: “There will be a General Council meeting held on the ninth of
November, at which we hope to take a decision on this very important

“This [meeting] was never intended to make a final decision,” Rockwell
underlined at the Wednesday afternoon briefing,  delayed for nearly two
hours while more than two dozen countries debated the recommendation of the
“WTO Troika” that has been managing the DG selection process.

That “Troika” led by WTO Ambassador David Walker of New Zealand, along with
Honduras’ Dacio Castillo and Harald Aspelund of Iceland.

Rockwell said that the Troika had made their recommendation after a
wide-ranging series of  private consultations with member states. The
Troika’s consultations found that Iweala had “by a wide margin, the most
preference, that she had wide support across all regions and across levels
of development, LDCs (least developed countries) developing countries and
developed countries.

“They said she had had these since the very beginning of the process.”

However, no formal roll-count of WTO members has been taken, Rockwell
added, noting that WTO elections aim to build a consensus of all 164

“The process of consultation is confidential. It’s not a vote.  It’s very
important to understand that this is a process of building a consensus
around one candidate, so that the Director General will be the director
general for all WTO members.”

“There will be a General Council meeting on the 9th of November, in which
we hope to take a final decision on the matter.”

On October 26, the European Union joined African and Caribbean states,
among others, in endorsing Okonjo-Iweala. China has also reportedly
expressed support for her appointment.

A former finance minister and World Bank managing director, Okonjo-Iweala
is currently the African Union’s Special Envoy to Mobilise International
Economic Support for the Continental Fight Against COVID-19.
<https://ngoziokonjoiweala.com/> She has been named as one of Transparency
International’s 8 Female Anti-Corruption Fighters Who Inspire (2019).

In a recent interview with Reuters she said: “I feel I can solve the
problems. I’m a known reformer, not someone who talks about it. I’ve
actually done it both at the World Bank and in my country.”

If her bid is successful, Okonjo-Iweala will need not only to navigate a
pandemic, but also wider issues involving bickering economies as national
protectionism has risen during the pandemic. She will need to overhaul the
WTO’s top appeals body which has had judge appointments repeatedly blocked
by US President Donald Trump’s administration.

Potentially, if Trump digs in his heels, that could prolong any WTO debate
over the final choice of a director-general for a couple of months, leaving
the organization with no one at the helm — even as the expected
announcement of COVID-19 drug and vaccine breakthroughs will make the
scramble for health products and the urgency of resolving emerging disputes
over patent rights even more immediate.Even if Trump is defeated next week
by Democratic contender Joe Biden, Trump will remain a “lame duck”
president until the inauguration of his successor in January 2021.

Commitment to Health and Global Immunization Goals

Okonjo-Iweala first moved to the United States in the 1970s to study
Economics at Harvard University, graduating magna cum laude. She later
received an International Fellowship from the American Association of
University Women (AAUW) to support her doctorate studies at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

She later served as Nigeria’s longest-running finance minister from
2003-2006 and 2011-2015, during which time she negotiated a $US 30 billion
reduction in the country’s external debt.

In 2015, Okonjo-Iweala was appointed Chair-elect of the Gavi Board, and
four years later received the Lasker-Bloomberg Public Service Award for her
role in supporting work to provide sustained access to childhood vaccines
for more than 760 million children.

It was that same year she became a dual US citizen, having spent several
decades already working and studying in the country.

Thiru Balasubramaniam
Geneva Representative
Knowledge Ecology International
41 22 791 6727
thiru at keionline.org

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