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, Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said on Tuesday.
Dr Okonjo-Iweala made the pledge 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 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 aspect.
“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 chain, 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.
The DG said that she was proud to know the progress that has been made.
Responding, Mr. Mustapha noted that the pandemic came with an impact on the nation’s economy but provided an opportunity for the country to really go back and look at her systems.
“I think the developing economies stand to benefit if they learn from the lessons of this adverse impact and look at their systems, their governance system, their economic foundation, 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 that Nigeria got its supplies,” he said.
The SGF also congratulated Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala for being the first woman, and the first African to have rose to the office of the DG of the WTO, saying that her new position was timely considering the various hostilities Nigeria was facing.