DG Okonjo-Iweala: Vaccine policy key to sustainable economic and trade recovery
Speaking at the virtual White House Global COVID-19 Summit on 22 September, Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said sustainable economic and trade recovery can only be achieved with a policy that ensures rapid global access to vaccines. “We have a choice,” she said. “Either we converge downwards by allowing the virus to drag us all back down, or we converge upwards by vaccinating the world.” Her speech is below.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Vaccinating the world is a moral, practical, and economic imperative.
Moral, because we cannot accept that in a world where the technology exists to save lives, we let people die because they live in poor countries that have neither the resources, nor the access to vaccines and other medical countermeasures needed to save their populations. It is not acceptable that 58% of people in developed countries are fully vaccinated, with vaccines available to anybody who wants one, while in low-income countries, barely 1% of people are vaccinated, and even frontline medical workers are denied access for want of supply.
Practical, because the longer the virus circulates freely, the likelier it is that variants even more dangerous than Delta will emerge and go global.
And economic, because the present K-shaped economic recovery is not sustainable. Currently, economies with abundant vaccines and ample fiscal and monetary firepower — which is to say, mostly rich countries and some Emerging Markets — have rebounded strongly. But other countries are being left behind. Extreme poverty is rising after decades of decline. According to the IMF, advanced economies will grow 5.6% this year, compared to only 3.9% for low-income developing countries. WTO projections show a similar trend in trade: Asia, North America, and Europe are on track for stronger trade growth than Africa and Latin America.
We have a choice. Either we converge downwards, by allowing the virus to drag us all back down, or we converge upwards, by vaccinating the world.
The WTO, WHO, IMF and World Bank are working together to implement the findings of the IMF report that shows that investing $50 billion up-front in vaccinating 40% of people in all countries by the end of this year, and at least 60% by the first half of 2022, would boost global economic output by $9 trillion between now and 2025. Together with my counterparts from the three International Organizations, we have formed a task force to bring this plan to fruition and this means reaching out to governments, civil society, and the private sector. It is only through such collaborative endeavours that we can succeed. Success would place us well on the path to achieving this summit’s vaccination and other targets for next September, which I wholeheartedly endorse.
The Pharmaceutical Industry has a key role to play and the WTO has been working with every leading COVID-19 vaccine manufacturer from around the world to better understand the challenges preventing greater production. We have learned that money is not always the problem and that non-financial measures can greatly impede the production, scaling up, and distribution of vaccines. Supply chain problems, for example export restrictions and prohibitions, red tape and input shortages are real barriers to production. In that respect, vaccine policy is trade policy. Making the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, for example, requires inputs from 19 countries which means trade is essential to move inputs across borders.
The WTO is working with its members to keep critical products moving by facilitating trade and reducing export restrictions, addressing supply bottlenecks and regulatory obstacles. We have encouraged industry to donate doses and swap contracts so that COVAX, AVATT and less advantaged countries at the end of the queue can move up and get supplies for distribution to the unserved. Eighty percent of the world’s vaccine exports come from 10 countries and pandemic politics has shown us that this may be problematic. When push comes to shove, politics trumps global priorities. So production must be more decentralized to emerging markets and developing countries. How can a continent like Africa remain so vulnerable, importing 99% of its vaccines and 90% of its pharmaceuticals? The WTO’s partnership and information sharing with industry is paying off.
Two months ago, Pfizer announced its $100 million investment in Aspen of South Africa at one of our meetings. Two weeks ago, at our most recent WTO convened gathering, CEOs of the 10 largest vaccine manufacturers discussed potential partnerships with each other that might lead to less expensive vaccines.
The WTO stands ready to be even more of a force multiplier to meet the goals we adopt today by supporting Industry to produce and distribute more, and COVAX, Avatt, ACT A and others to have access. At the WTO’s Twelfth Ministerial Conference late this fall, our members can adopt decisions to ensure that in health crises, key products will move freely around the world, people in poor countries will not be left at the back of the queue, and we will continue to get the innovation we need. I urge members to find pragmatic compromises in their ongoing negotiations on the proposals to waive WTO intellectual property rules for COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics.
A sustainable economic and trade recovery is only possible when we get our vaccine policy right. And we cannot get vaccine policy right without cooperative action to ensure a stable, predictable, and fair multilateral trading system.
Source: World Trade Organization