Interview | We are talking to Indian vaccine makers about their production and supply, says WTO DG

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#Economy, #India, #Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, #vaccine, #WTO, #WTO DG, assumes major significance

WTO Director General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Image: AFP)

World Trade Organisation (WTO) Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on her visit to New Delhi to discuss multiple global trade issues, including vaccine patent waiver.

Iweala’s three-day trip to India assumes major significance as all WTO member-nations will converge in November-end for the global body’s biennial ministerial conference.

She feels that vaccine passports create obstacles unless countries recognize WHO approved vaccines. “Discriminating among WHO approved vaccines is not a good idea,” she told News18’s Parikshit Luthra in an interview.

Q. How do you look at India’s economic recovery?

IMF is predicting a strong recovery for India with a 9.5% growth this year. We are forecasting 10.8% growth in global merchandise trade, 3 percentage point more than our March forecast. Looking at an uneven K shaped economic recovery across the world, India and Asian economies on the higher side of the recovery. Latin America, Middle East and Africa are on the lower side of the K shaped recovery.

Countries which have gone for strong fiscal stimulus, accommodating monetary policy and high access to vaccines have done better. India has ramped up vaccine access, and that also has aided an economic bounce back.

Q. Are booster doses hampering economic recovery?

It makes practical economic sense to vaccinate as much of the world as possible. Low income countries including Africa have vaccinated just 4% of their people compared to 70% in the developed world. Vaccine inequity is not just a moral issue but an economic issue. Worried that sustainability of global economic recovery is at stake if we don’t end vaccine inequity.

Q. Do vaccine passports further worsen inequalities?

Vaccine passports could be a problem, unless countries recognize WHO approved vaccines. Discriminating among WHO approved vaccines is not a good idea. Vaccine passports amount to double victimization because of lack of access and restrictions on travel. Need to be careful with regard to vaccine passport policies.

Q. What according to you are the key headwinds to global trade?

Access to vaccines is a biggest downside risk to global trade. Boost in demand and supply shortages have created a perfect storm. Holiday season may worsen demand and supply in some nations. Demand and supply mismatch will carry on for several months, but will not be a permanent feature. Small and medium sized businesses will be hit harder.

Q. What is the road ahead for the IPR waiver on vaccines?

India is a leader particularly among developing countries. We need India’s leadership for WTO to succeed. WTO has not been very agile at completing any multilateral agreement. Seen poverty, war and hunger and understand India’s concerns on food security. Need to further reduce export restrictions during the pandemic. 100 developing countries including South Africa and India want patent waiver, but there are non-proponents as well.

We are working on a pragmatic solution out of the deadlock on patent waiver negotiations. Formal negotiations on patent waiver struck at TRIPS council. Hopeful of a pragmatic compromise which could give vaccine access to developing countries but at the same time not disincentivize research and innovation.

Q. What was the objective of meeting vaccine makers?

We are talking to Indian vaccine makers about their production and supply. Thank India for lifting prohibition on export of vaccines. We are hopeful low income nations can procure from SII now. Want to understand the possibility of scaling up production.

Q. What is your view on India’s demand for eliminating food and fishing subsidies for rich nations?

Very sympathetic to India’s concerns on public stock holding and agricultural subsidies. Agri subsidies from 540-700 billion are increasing to over a trillion dollars by 2030 will distort market prices.

WTO needs to do something about the level of agricultural subsidies. WTO has been debating agreements on fisheries and agri subsidies for 20 years. I strongly believe that negotiations about people cannot take 20 years. Every delay in agreements, make fishermen in poorer countries suffer. Hope India will also show flexibility in negotiations

Q. Decoupling from China, is it even happening on the ground?

Rhetoric on US-China and India-China trade is hot but facts tell a different story. Trade between China-Europe and US-China are at robust levels and doesn’t match the rhetoric. Decoupling cannot happen overnight, seeing more of near shoring and inventory accumulation than reshoring.

Q. Self reliance and efforts to increase exports compatible?

Self reliance is good as long as you can add value to products to make them competitive. Self reliance should not amount to self sufficiency​.

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