Forgot password?
Sign up today and your first download is free.

This Week In Trade

WTO gets needed boost as COVID, vaccinations dominate international discussions

Posted: February 16, 2021

Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was approved as the World Trade Organization’s new director-general on Monday, saying her top priorities would be to address export restrictions on pandemic-related materials and to try to ensure trade rules don’t inhibit the production of the COVID-19 vaccine. Meanwhile, President Biden will meet with G7 leaders this week to discuss vaccine production and distribution and the global economic recovery.

WTO members formally nominated and selected Okonjo-Iweala as their next director-general months after she was named the consensus candidate by ambassadors leading the selection process. Her nomination, however, was held up over the Trump administration’s refusal to endorse the former World Bank managing director and finance minister over what it said was a lack of trade experience. The Biden administration dropped the U.S.’ objection.

Okonjo-Iweala, who officially takes over on March 1, won’t find it easy to move the WTO in her envisioned direction, as the International Trade Centre has reported that about 100 countries, including the U.S., still have pandemic-related export restrictions. “For the global economy to return to sustained growth, the global community will need to get a tight grip on the pandemic by intensifying cooperation to make equitable and affordable access to vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics a key plank of the recovery,” she told WTO members on Monday, according to a copy of her statement.

“The WTO can and must play a more forceful role in exercising its monitoring function and encouraging Members to minimise or remove export restrictions and prohibitions that hinder supply chains for medical goods and equipment,” she added.

The incoming director-general also called on members to “reject vaccine nationalism and protectionism” and to “intensify cooperation” to ensure access to new vaccines. She encouraged members to strike licensing agreements with pharmaceutical companies, which she said would both encourage innovation and help ramp of production of medical products.

The WTO has plenty of non-pandemic issues it also must address. A top priority will be reaching an agreement to eliminate harmful fisheries subsidies, Okonjo-Iweala acknowledged. A deal should come together before the WTO’s next ministerial conference, expected sometime this year, with the meeting itself to be a “venue to conclude on modalities for implementation,” she said.

Fisheries subsidies negotiators are slated to meet throughout the week. On top of the already contentious negotiations, another potential hang-up could be a lack of U.S. political guidance. During negotiating sessions last month, a U.S. delegate said U.S. positions would not be elaborated on while the Biden administration got its house in order.

U.S. Trade Representative nominee Katherine Tai still does not have a date for her confirmation hearing before the Senate Finance Committee. The Biden administration also has not yet named nominees for key deputy USTR slots including ambassador to the WTO.

The Biden administration has appointed Julie Greene as its assistant USTR for public engagement, Politico reported on Monday. Greene previously led the AFL-CIO’s grassroots operations, which included its state and local campaigns. Last year the Biden transition organization named her to its USTR agency review team.

While he continues to put his team together, the president continues to talk with allies about how to deal with the pandemic. Those discussions will continue on Friday when Biden participates in his first world leaders’ summit as president, which will center on COVID-19 vaccine production and distribution. G7 leaders will meet virtually to discuss “coordination on vaccine production, distribution, and supplies, as well as continued efforts to mobilize and cooperate against the threat of emerging infectious diseases by building country capacity and establishing health security financing,” according to a White House advisory issued on Sunday.

Also on the summit agenda: Biden’s “build back better” plan for economic recovery. The president will emphasize the need “to make investments to strengthen our collective competitiveness and the importance of updating global rules to tackle economic challenges such as those posed by China,” the White House said.

In addition to the virtual G7 summit, Biden will deliver remarks “on the importance of our transatlantic ties” during a virtual event the Munich Security Conference will hold in lieu of its annual meeting.

The Agriculture Department will host its annual agricultural outlook forum this week. USDA Chief economist Seth Meyer will give an opening address on Thursday. USDA Senior Economist Sharon Sydow will moderate a discussion on the administration’s trade agenda and opportunities for U.S. agriculture with Chad Bown from the Peterson Institute for International Economics and Jason Hafemeister, the secretary’s trade counsel.

China will be the focal point of a discussion with acting Foreign Agricultural Service Administrator Daniel Whitley, Hafemeister, the Brookings Institution’s David Dollar and USDA Senior Economist Fred Gale.


  • The Center for Strategic & International Studies on Tuesday will host a webinar on “confronting Chinese state capitalism.” One event will feature two panel discussions. The first will focus on Chinese state-owned enterprises and a Communist Party that is heavily involved in corporate affairs. The second discussion dive into how China’s market distortions can best be countered.
  • SupChina’s China Corner Office podcast host and Cornell University professor Christopher Marquis on Wednesday will welcome U.S.-China Business Council President Craig Allen on his show along with Robert Daly, the director of the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Kissinger Institute on China.
  • The Peterson Institute’s biweekly Trade Winds series, hosted by senior fellow Anabel González, continues on Wednesday with a discussion on how trade and investment policy can be used to fight the pandemic and support economic recovery. It will feature former Italian Economy and Finance Minister Pier Carlo Padoan and Jonathan Fried, a former personal representative of the Canadian prime minister to the G20.
  • The U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday will host the “State of U.S.-India Business” event, with U.S.-India Business Council Board Chair Vijay Advani, former Indian Ambassador to the U.S. Arun Singh, Apple Managing Director Virat Bhatia, Nasdaq Vice Chairman Edward Knight, Amway CEO Milind Pant, and Biocon Executive Chairperson Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw.
  • The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission on Thursday will hold a hearing on deterring Chinese aggression toward Taiwan.
  • Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AK) on Thursday will discuss the prospects of targeted decoupling with China during a webinar hosted by the Reagan Institute. The webinar is part of the launch of Cotton’s report, “China, Targeted Decoupling, and the Economic Long War.”
  • The Woodrow Wilson Center’s Global Europe program and the Munich Security Conference on Wednesday will cohost a discussion on the future of U.S.-European relations with Wilson President Jane Harman, MSC Chairman Wolfgang Ischinger, and Wilson Center Global Europe Chair Catherine Ashton.
  • British Ambassador to the U.S. Karen Pierce and former USTR and World Bank President Robert Zoellick on Wednesday will discuss the U.S. and British perspectives on foreign policy for the middle class during a webinar hosted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
  • The U.S. Chamber of Commerce will issue a report on Wednesday analyzing the U.S.-China economic relationship and the potential for decoupling. The Chamber’s Charles Freeman will participate in a panel giving an overview of the report with Rhodium Group founding partner Daniel Rosen and Rhodium’s Associate Director for China Lauren Gloudeman. Rosen, the Chamber’s Jeremie Waterman, CSIS senior adviser Scott Kennedy, and American Chemistry Council President Chris Jahn will then give their views on the costs of decoupling. -- Brett Fortnam (bfortnam@iwpnews.com)