New Delhi, Feb 16 (FN Agency) The newly appointed director general of the World Trade Organization, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has said promoting free flow of Covid-19 vaccines and medical supplies will be at the top of her priorities when she takes charge on March 1. “We have the twin shocks of the pandemic, the health side and the economic side, which is challenging so many and it has brought economic devastation to many parts of the world,” Okonjo-Iweala, the first woman and the first African to head the WTO, said in her first virtual press conference on Monday, soon after she was chosen by consensus by the WTO’s General Council.
“First and foremost, we need to focus on the issue of COVID-19 and what the WTO can do to contribute to solutions. “It needs to work with the WHO, with the COVAX Facility, with the ACT Accelerator, all these organizations that are trying to accelerate supplies and vaccines to poor countries.” She said that the WTO could work with members to lift export restrictions to facilitate the free flow of vaccines and medical supplies. India and South Africa have been pushing for a waiver of restrictions on intellectual property rights on Covid-19 vaccines, citing the provision where such could be lifted in case of emergency. Stressing that vaccine nationalism does not pay, she said the WTO and its members could encourage countries to lift export restrictions in a bid to ensure the free flow of medical commodities. Okonjo-Iweala previously chaired the board of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which works with the World Health Organisation (WHO) on the COVAX initiative for equitable global access to COVID-19 vaccines in poorer countries.