WTO Director-General: We need ‘equity for vaccines’

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Ahead of her confirmation as Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala spoke to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour about her new role and the future of the WTO.

 

Okonjo-Iweala is the first woman and the first African to hold the role of Director-General. As leader, she says that fair trade and access to Covid-19 vaccines are among her top priorities, “How can trade under WTO play a stronger role in bringing solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic, both on the health side, but also on the economic side? For economic recovery, we need trade. And also, in order to solve the public health problems, we also need good trade rules that will allow access and equity for vaccines and therapeutics and diagnostics.”

 

An economist and former finance minister of Nigeria, Okonjo-Iweala enjoyed broad support from WTO members including new US President Joe Biden. She discussed this endorsement, “I’m very grateful to the Biden/Harris administration for coming forward and giving me such strong endorsement. And all I’m going to say is, I look forward to the future and to the challenge of trying to rebrand the WTO, work with the membership to turn it around.”

 

In the joint-interview with former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, the two women discussed their new book Women and Leadership which looks at the continuing gender inequality in access to power and leadership roles.

KEY QUOTES

 

Okonjo-Iweala on her new role as Director-General:

It feels exciting, and it feels daunting. At the same time, I look forward to the challenge. Of course, it’s going to be confirmed on Monday the 15th. There are a lot of challenges in front of the WTO. Deep reforms are needed, and to rebrand and reposition the organization, which is a very important one. And I feel very humbled to have been supported by all the members.

 

Okonjo-Iweala on the future of the WTO:

Top priorities that I have that I’m passionate about is, how can trade under WTO play a stronger role in bringing solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic, both on the health side, but also on the economic side? For economic recovery, we need trade. And also, in order to solve the public health problems, we also need good trade rules that will allow access and equity for vaccines and therapeutics and diagnostics.

 

Okonjo-Iweala on President Biden’s support for her position:
I’m very grateful to the Biden/Harris administration for coming forward and giving me such strong endorsement. And all I’m going to say is, I look forward to the future and to the challenge of trying to rebrand the WTO, work with the membership to turn it around.

 

Okonjo-Iweala on sexism:

In the book, we say something about a sort of pecking order in the world, where you have white males and black males, then white females, then black females. So, for every gendered situation, it’s so much so for women of colour. And I think it’s even harder to call out sexism and gendered attitudes for women of colour.

Okonjo-Iweala on political accountability:

I believe, absolutely, that you cannot have good governance without accountability. And that’s why things are changing. The new generation are much less tolerant. They want their leaders to be accountable. And that is why you see many civil society movements and people, young people coming out on the streets, young people seeking a more democratic regime, where they can have voice.

Okonjo-Iweala on her new book with Julia Gillard:

We need to talk to men in order to change things. It’s not good enough to just talk to ourselves as women. So, the book is also for men, because men can be — can take action to improve this.

 


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