GENEVA ( Associated Press) – The head of the World Trade Organization predicted a “rough and rocky” road as the trade body opened its highest-level meeting in 4-1/2 years on Sunday to discuss pandemic preparedness, background against issues like food insecurity. Russia’s war in Ukraine and the overpopulation of the world’s seas on the agenda.
At a time when some experts question the future and relevance of the WTO, Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iwela expects the meeting of more than 120 ministers from the organization’s 164 member states to reduce inequality and ensure fair and free trade. progress will be made.
Okonjo-Iwela acknowledged that the Geneva-based trade body needed reform.
“The road will be bumpy and rocky. There may be some landmines on the way,” Okonjo-Iwela told reporters on Sunday ahead of the opening of the four-day meeting. “We’ll have to navigate those landmines and see how we can successfully land one or two deliverables.”
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The WTO chief stressed that trade has lifted 1 billion people out of poverty, but poor countries – and poor people in rich countries – are often left behind.
He pointed to a food emergency caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, where blocked ports have hampered the export of between 22 million and 25 million tons of grain from a major European breadbasket.
At the meeting, ministers will consider whether to commit to lifting or easing export restrictions on food to help ease pressure on countries facing war shortages of wheat, fertilizer and other products. They will also decide whether to support the United Nations World Food Program and get supplies to feed needy countries around the world.
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Okonjo-Iwela hopes that member states, who decide by consensus, can also reach an agreement about whether to temporarily waive the WTO’s protection of intellectual property on COVID-19 vaccines.
Supporters say the move would give developing countries better vaccine access without harming safety and incentives for innovators. The topic has generated months of contentious conversation.
The World Trade Organization, which was created in 1995 as the successor to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, has revealed a slow pace – not least because US objections largely disrupted its dispute-resolving system. Is. The objections center on how the system is structured.
The WTO hasn’t struck a major trade deal in years. The last one, reached nearly a decade ago, was an agreement that cut red tape on clearing goods borders and was billed to promote low-income countries.