Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala took office on 1 March 2021, becoming the first woman and the first African to serve as Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Dr Okonjo-Iweala is a global finance expert, an economist and international development professional with over 30 years of experience working in Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America and North America.
On 9 June 2021, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala opened the high-level event The Africa Roundtable by GPI with a short conversation with Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger, Chairman of the Munich Security Conference. In the dialogue, she emphasized the need to support economic recovery and preparedness for future pandemics.
COVID-19 has hit Africa’s public health and economy hard. Due to the Delta variant, countries experience a sharp rise of COVID-19 cases. In addition, inequality in access to vaccines is still enormous.
The pandemic caused a tremendous economic crisis that Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala describes as “a setback about 25 years in terms of the progress that we’ve seen in the economy”. Regarding the recovery, Dr Okonjo-Iweala highlights three core factors.
The WTO and trade in general could play a crucial role in the economic recovery of the African continent. Trade can serve as the instrument for moving the necessary goods, such as vaccines, and equipment, creating access to medical supplies and health care.
2. Pharmaceutical industry
Dr Okonjo-Iweala discussed the issue of vaccine manufacturing, stating that the WTO is “trying to talk to manufacturers to support the manufacture of vaccines on the continent”. Part of these discussions is also the “waiver of intellectual property rights so that countries can have access to the manufacture of vaccines”. In accordance with reimagining manufacturing on the continent, Dr Okonjo-Iweala points to the need to attract industries that are not yet represented on the continent, such as pharmaceuticals, and the importance of facilitating trade.
The WTO also supports the “issue of inclusion, especially through the new digital economy, by working with micro, medium and small enterprises and women to get them “upgrade the standards of their products” in order to “break into regional supply chains”.
In conclusion, Dr Ngozi highlights the need to make sure that the “intra-African trade, as well as trade with the outside, becomes a factor that helps the African economy recover”.
Judith Ramadan, Project Management