By Obinna Chima
The Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has stressed the need to keep global trade flows open to ensure that developing and least-developed countries have access to essential medical goods to control the spread of COVID-19 and are able to use trade to drive sustainable economic recovery.
Okonjo-Iweala, while speaking yesterday alongside other heads of international organisations during the first day of a high-level virtual plenary session of the Aid for Trade Stocktaking Event, said the global trade community must act swiftly to mitigate the severe impact of the COVID-19 crisis on developing countries and in particular, least-developed countries (LDCs).
The speakers, including the World Health Organisation Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus; International Monetary Fund Managing Director, Kristalina Georgieva and World Bank’s President, David Malpass, stated that the LDCs had been hit the hardest by trade and economic disruptions arising from the pandemic.
They noted that from the supply of health products such as masks to the approval and rollout of vaccines, the multilateral trading system plays a crucial role in ensuring that no one is left behind in the post-pandemic trade and economic recovery process.
Okonjo-Iweala said: “Today, the pandemic is reversing hard-won development gains, adding to the problems facing the most vulnerable.
“The post-COVID recovery must not leave anyone, or any country, behind. The first step towards this goal must be a rapid, global vaccine rollout that ends the pandemic.
“We need more trade cooperation to address supply bottlenecks, lower regulatory hurdles, facilitate trade and finance vaccine purchases. “Keeping global markets open is essential for a strong and sustained recovery.
“The organisations and members that have cooperated on the Aid for Trade initiative have made a huge difference in peoples’ lives. “Working together now to invest in the recovery of trading partners is not just the right thing to do.
“Building back a greener, more equitable, more prosperous global economy is a matter of economic self-interest for all countries.”
The speakers provided an overview of global trade flows, pointing to a broad recovery of goods trade driven by medical products.
They noted that services trade was also rising but at a slower pace. They underlined the important role that global cooperation has played in maintaining the flow of goods and food and called for keeping export restraints in check.
According to them, an inclusive, robust and green economic recovery will require open markets and continued mobilising of trade financing to help developing countries and LDCs build resilience to future shocks and alleviate extreme poverty.
Through initiatives such as Aid for Trade, the global community could help address these countries’ trade needs so that they may play a more active role in global trade and meet their development objectives, the speakers said.
In his contribution, Ghebreyesus said: “The pandemic is a devastating demonstration that health and the economy are integrated and interdependent.
“When health is at risk, everything is at risk. But when health is protected and promoted, individuals, families, communities, economies and nations can flourish.
“The pandemic will subside, but there will be another one. And countries will continue to face myriad health challenges that sap productivity, fuel inequality and hold nations back.”
Also, Georgieva said a rebound in trade, if managed properly, could lead to growth and raise living standards in the developing world.
“And we know trade increases job opportunities, trade increases access for poor households to affordable goods and services. “Trade will be at the heart of efforts to build forward towards a greener, more inclusive and digital recovery.
“We get a chance to transform our economies — a chance to make them smart, green, more equitable. Trade can play a hugely important role in that regard,” she added.
On his part, Malpass stated that as countries formulate policies for recovery, they have a chance to embark on a green, resilient and inclusive development path, setting a foundation for robust growth and development in the longer run.
“To build back better, we need more trade. If countries work to open their economies and lower trade costs through improved logistics and connectivity, the recovery from COVID-19 will be much faster and stronger.
“We need to ensure a level playing field, governed by transparent and predictable rules. Reducing trade policy uncertainty will be critical to reviving global investment and growth,” he added.