Entry into office on 1is March of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala at the head of the World Trade Organization (WTO) marks the beginning of the convalescence of the gendarme of world trade. It remains to re-establish its dispute settlement body so that the organization is fully functional, in order to meet the many challenges that await it.
This content was published on February 22, 2021 – 15:28
It was by consensus that the 164 members of the WTO elected Ms. Okonjo-Iweala, who has dual citizenship of Nigeria and the United States. A consensus made possible by the arrival of Joe Biden at the White House. Her predecessor had done everything to cripple the organization, including the nomination of the first woman and first African, acquired last year by other WTO members.
It remains to reactivate the renewal of the judges of the appeal tribunal of the dispute settlement body – blocked by Washington since the Obama presidencyExternal link – so that the institution regains its full capacity to reform.
“A strong WTO is vital” for recovery from the pandemic, the director-general told media on the day of her appointment. Dr Ngozi, as she prefers to be called, has never hidden her desire to improve the access of developing countries to a vaccine and to technologies against the coronavirus. A perspective that is far from reaching a consensus.
Many states are in favor of exceptions to patents, requested by NGOs such as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). But some countries, like Switzerland, support pharmaceutical companies by believing that the WTO agreement on the subject (TRIPS) is sufficient.
Citing a recent academic study, Ms. Okonjo-Iweala launched, prior to her appointmentExternal link, a warning: If rich countries are fully vaccinated by the middle of this year while poor countries continue to be deprived of broad access to vaccines, the cost to the global economy could exceed $ 9 trillion.
For the Director General, it is imperative to rebuild the WTO while taking advantage of its know-how. It is about overcoming the problems that are weakening the multilateral trading system, including the disruption of supply chains caused by the coronavirus crisis. It also intends to promote an easing of conflicts between developing countries and developed countries. A tension that crystallized with the trade war between Beijing and Washington.
Since the creation of the WTO in 1995, the development of global value chains has enabled the volume of trade to be almost tripled (2.7), which amounted to 18,000 billion dollars in 2019.
According to published statistics and business outlookExternal link According to the WTO last October, the drop in world merchandise trade in 2020 is between 13% and 32%. But the volume of trade could rebound to 7.2% in 2021, a “weak recovery”, according to the WTO.
Faced with the proliferation of bilateral and regional agreements, the Director-General will have to relaunch the only multilateral trading system with a dispute settlement system. A challenge that is all the greater as many countries invoke “economic patriotism”.
Simon EvenettExternal link, professor of international trade and economic development at the University of St. Gallen, tells swissinfo.ch that Ms Okonjo-Iweala is well placed to advocate for open trade in vaccines and their components, and to advancing trade and health initiatives that many WTO members might wish to join: “If it succeeds in this, member states will see the value of the institution. Which will then help him reform other parts of the WTO that need to change. “
The professor is thinking in particular of the regulation of the digital economy and the integration into the WTO of efforts in the area of climate change. Simon Evenett adds that the CEO’s African experience is “very valuable” for a trading system led primarily by the West: “The interests of African countries will attract more attention.”
This huge market, whose gross regional product is around 2.5 trillion dollars according to calculations by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), has been endowed with a free trade agreement since May 2019. of the African continent (AfCFTAExternal link), which aims to eliminate 90% of tariffs on goods. Entered into force on January 1, “this agreement will also contribute to world trade if African countries integrate their economies and develop their trade,” says Simon Evenett. And the WTO is able to provide technical assistance to African countries to implement their trade policies. ”
President of the Confederation in charge of the economy, Guy Parlemin “congratulated the new Director General on her election as head of the WTO. Ms. Okonjo-Iweala is assured of the support of SwitzerlandExternal link with a view to improving the multilateral trading system and strengthening the WTO as the benchmark trade policy authority. “
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>> The portrait of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (RTS / 16.03.21External link)
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