The World Trade Organisation, WTO, will work to reduce export restrictions among member states, especially with regards to medical supplies in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Director-General of World Trade Organisation, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, made the promise when she met with members of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 in the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha on Tuesday in Abuja.
The WTO DG, who said she was on a thank you visit to Nigeria and the ECOWAS for the support she received in the run up to her elections into the trade body, stressed that in a pandemic, an economy cannot be advanced until the health sector was taken care of.
”The main reason we are here is really to see how the WTO can support Nigeria, in improving its economy. ‘We are in a pandemic and of course, you cannot advance the economy until you take care of the health aspects.
”What the Secretary to the Government office is doing along with the presidential Task Force is laudable, and we wanted to just discuss with them, one, what is happening, the arrival of the COVID vaccines, how that is being distributed, the challenges, opportunities on the way of that and that the WTO can do.
“Interestingly, trade is very instrumental in access to medical supplies and equipment, because how do they get from one place to the other? It is through trade.
‘Part of the challenges we’ve had in this pandemic, is the fact that some of our member countries put export restrictions on the movement of medical supplies, equipment, and even supplies to make vaccines.
“So one of the things that WTO can do is to work with members to reduce these export restrictions. If you take vaccines, for instance, I’ll just give you one number from the manufacturer of Pfizer, the Pfizer BioTech vaccine.
”We had a meeting with the manufacturers a couple of days ago in Geneva and their representative said that it takes 280 components to manufacture their vaccine. And it’s in a supply chain that involves 19 countries.
”So in the supply chains, so many of our products, medical products are global. And so when a country puts export restrictions on one, it means that you slow the production everywhere, that’s where the WTO comes in.
”Because, we have certain rules that members should abide by, with respect to these restrictions. And we play a fundamental role in making sure that medical supplies and equipment and vaccines circulate.
“So we are here to see what we can do to support Nigeria. I have to personally say, I was chair of GAVI, the vaccine alliance for five years,” she said.
The DG said that she was proud to know the progress that has been made.
Responding, Mustapha noted that the pandemic came with an impactson the nation’s economy but provided an opportunity for the country to really go back and look at her systems.
“The good thing about COVID-19 is that it has exposed the weaknesses of all systems.
”Even the most established democracies and economies have been brought to their knees by the adverse effects of COVID-19.
”I think the developing economies stand to benefit if they learn from the lessons of this adverse impacts and look at their systems, their governance system, their economic foundations, and the need to heighten inclusion in the way we develop our agendas and our programmes.
“Our vaccines have arrived. And I want to take this opportunity to truly thank you for your efforts as chair of GAVI, in ensuring because I kept getting reports that you are on everybody’s neck to ensure that Nigeria got it supplies.
”As you spend some more time at home before you return to your base, we will continue to uphold you in prayers because Nigeria is a praying country. So that your tenure will bring succour and relief to countries that are under intense economic pressure,” he said.
The SGF also congratulated Okonjo-Iweala for being the first woman, and the first African to have ascended to the office of the DG of the WTO, said her new position was timely considering the various conflicts Nigeria was facing.
The PTF chairman said: “At a time when Nigeria is conflicted, somehow, but it is at its best on the international arena, your election is a testimony to your proven track record.
”So we are very, very confident that your election into this office will bring a lot of good goodwill to Nigeria”.
The News Agency of Nigeria reports that before the meeting with the PTF , Okonjo-Iweala held separate discussions with the SGF, Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire; Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed; Minister of Environment, Muhammad Mahmood; Minister of State for Health, Sen. Olorunnimbe Mamora; and the National Incident Manager, NIM, PTF, Dr. Mukhtar Muhammad, among others.