WTO needs to show results on economic crisis, vaccines: Okonjo-Iweala

Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala will take over leadership on March 1. (File/AFP)
Short Url
Updated 17 February 2021

WTO needs to show results on economic crisis, vaccines: Okonjo-Iweala

  • Her immediate goals are to ensure vaccines are produced and distributed worldwide, not just for rich nations, and to resist the push toward protectionism

WASHINGTON: Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, newly selected head of the World Trade Organization (WTO), said Tuesday she will push for concrete results in addressing the dual economic and health crises facing the globe.
Her immediate goals are to ensure vaccines are produced and distributed worldwide, not just for rich nations, and to resist the push toward protectionism that worsened during the pandemic, so that free trade can help the economic recovery.
“I think the WTO is too important to allow it to be slowed down, paralyzed and moribund,” she told AFP in an interview. “That’s not right.”
She will take over leadership on March 1 of an institution that has become weighed down and increasingly defanged, especially by the open hostility of Donald Trump’s administration.
Amid the turmoil, including the US move that shutdown the dispute resolution court in December 2019 about complaints about handling of disputes with China, her predecessor stepped down last August, a year before his term was up.
Selected by the membership on Monday, after US President Joe Biden’s administration backed her candidacy, Okonjo-Iweala promised to breathe fresh life into the trade body which she says has lost focus on helping improve living conditions for real people.
“I believe the WTO can contribute more strongly to a resolution of the Covid-19 pandemic by helping to improve access accessibility and affordability of vaccines to poor countries,” she said.

“It’s really in the self-interest of every country to see everyone vaccinated because you’re not safe until everyone is safe.”
Some countries, such as India and South Africa, have been pushing for a suspension of trade rules on patents to allow more rapid vaccine rollout.
But rather than get caught in another squabble among WTO members, Okonjo-Iweala said the organization could promote a quicker path.
“Instead of spending time arguing on those we should look at what the private sector is doing” with licensing agreements, to allow vaccines to be produced in multiple countries — something she noted AstraZeneca already has done in India.
“The private sector has already looked for a solution because they want to be part of reaching poor countries and poor people,” she said.
In addition, the WTO needs to work to ward off the trend toward export restrictions for medical devices and therapeutics, as well as the possibility of restrictions on the vaccines themselves.
While it is natural for politicians to help their own countries first, she warned that supply chains are tightly linked and cannot be quickly disentangled to create all-domestic production.

The MIT-trained economist, who served as Nigeria’s first woman and longest serving finance minister, who also is a US citizen, is adamant the WTO must return to its original function of helping countries to deliver better living standards to their people.
“It’s about creating employment, decent work for people. It’s about ... improving lives,” she said.
“There is definitely a role for trade to play in the recovery” from the Covid-19 economic crisis.
Even before the pandemic sparked a global recession, the organization had lost sight of that goal, she said, lamenting the example of the negotiations over a fisheries subsidies agreement that has dragged on for two decades.
“This cannot go on. We must bring it to a conclusion. We can’t afford to fail on this.”
The talks, which aim to end subsidies that lead to overfishing, failed to yield an agreement by the end-2020 deadline.
She blamed some of the calcification on the dominance of negotiators, which she called an “Achilles heel” of the WTO.
“Geneva is full of negotiating experts, but the problems have not been solved they’ve gotten worse,” she said. “For them it’s all about winning or not losing and so they stalemate each other.”
The WTO needs “something entirely different” to turn things around, she said, rejecting criticism from some sectors that she lacks trade experience.
“You need strong political skills you need the ability to maneuver,” she said, adding that she can serve as a bridge between developed and developing nations, pulling on her 25-year career at the World Bank as well.
She also intends to push to schedule the pandemic-delayed WTO ministerial meeting by the end of this year to start which will allow her to spark movement on critical issues.

Okonjo-Iweala will once again be the first woman in a key leadership role, taking over the WTO for a term that runs through August 31, 2025, but is renewable.
She agreed it was a challenging, thankless job, but said that make her even more passionate to show results, so that in future no one can question placing a woman in the role.
“That means I need people to support me even more. I need more cooperation,” she said.


Sudan PM hopes to settle $60bn foreign debt this year

Updated 13 May 2021

Sudan PM hopes to settle $60bn foreign debt this year

  • ADB arrears paid with $425 million loan from U.K., Sweden and Ireland
  • The Paris Club of major creditors make up around 38 percent of foreign debt

Khartoum: Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok hopes Sudan can wipe out its staggering $60 billion foreign debt bill this year by securing relief and deals at an upcoming Paris conference that could bring much-needed investment.
The seasoned UN economist-turned-premier took office at the head of a transitional government shortly after the 2019 ouster of president Omar Al-Bashir whose three-decade iron-fisted rule was marked by economic hardship, deep internal conflicts, and biting international sanctions.
In the past two years, Hamdok and his government have pushed to rebuild the crippled economy and end Sudan’s international isolation.
“We have already settled the World Bank arrears, those of the African Development Bank, and in Paris, we will be settling the International Monetary Fund arrears,” Hamdok told AFP at his office in Khartoum.
Arrears due to the African Development Bank were cleared through a bridging loan worth $425 million from Sweden, Britain and Ireland, while debts to the World Bank were paid off with a $1.1 billion bridging loan from the US.
“Paris also is home to the Paris Club, our biggest creditors... and we will be discussing debt relief with them,” Hamdok said.
Sudan’s debts to the Paris Club, which includes major creditor countries, is estimated to make up around 38 percent of its total $60 billion foreign debt.
Hamdok and top Sudanese officials will be attending Monday’s Paris conference along with by French President Emmanuel Macron, and World Bank and IMF representatives.
The aim is to draw investments to Sudan including in the energy, infrastructure, agriculture and telecommunications sectors.
“We are going to the Paris conference to let foreign investors explore the opportunities for investing in Sudan,” Hamdok said.
“We are not looking for grants or donations.”
Sudan was taken off Washington’s blacklist of state sponsors of terrorism in December, removing a major hurdle to foreign investment.
The government has also embarked on tough measures including subsidy cuts and introducing a managed currency float to qualify for an IMF debt relief program.
Though widely unpopular, the premier says the measures were necessary to move toward debt relief “by the end of the year.”
But many challenges still lie ahead.
His government has been pushing to forge peace with rebel groups to end conflicts in far-flung regions.
In October, it signed a landmark peace deal with rebels from the western region of Darfur as well the southern states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile.
Only two groups including one which wields substantial power in Darfur refused to sign the deal.
To Hamdok, the peace deal represents “50 percent on the road to peace.”
Efforts are underway to sign deals with the remaining groups, and talks with a faction of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) are slated for later this month.
Hamdok acknowledged the slow pace of implementing the peace deal, but said Sudan is “steadily moving forward.”
In February, Sudan appointed three ex-rebels to the ruling sovereign council and announced a new transitional cabinet including seven ex-rebels.
“We have come a long way... and in my view the second stage of talks will go much faster.”
Simmering tensions with neighboring Ethiopia over a fertile border region and a gigantic dam on the Blue Nile pose another challenge.

Related


UK medical tech firm reveals Saudi expansion plans

Updated 13 May 2021

UK medical tech firm reveals Saudi expansion plans

  • Nemaura Medical has developed a diabetes-tracking wearable device
  • Product launches are planned for Germany, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia

RIYADH: A British medical technology company behind an innovative diabetes monitoring system has identified Saudi Arabia as one of its key target markets.

Nemaura Medical has developed a wearables device which can help diabetics track their blood glucose levels, and the Kingdom is high on the firm’s international expansion plans list.

Its sugarBEAT continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) product was recently launched in the UK and is targeted at people suffering from conditions such as diabetes who want a needle-free alternative.

Initially the company recorded orders of 200,000 sugarBEAT sensors in the UK and has forecast total sales of 2.1 million this year.

Following positive feedback in the UK, it has announced plans to expand internationally and is lining up product launches in Germany, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia.

Dr. Faz Chowdhury, the chief executive officer of Nemaura Medical, said: “We believe our technology is ground-breaking and represents a paradigm shift in the way people with diabetes can manage their condition.

“We believe we have a critical first-mover advantage with a product that is easier to use, more flexible, and more cost-effective than existing technologies. We are not aware of any product of a similar nature in clinical studies or that has been submitted for regulatory approval.”

Nemaura Medical was founded in 2011 and recently expanded into the wearables market to develop and commercialize devices which can help to monitor chronic diseases and health conditions without the need for needles.

The CGM market is a growing sector and according to the Allied Market Research company will be worth around $9 billion by 2027.

The potential market for devices such as sugerBEAT in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is considered strong with data from the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) showing more than 39 million 20 to 79-year-olds in the region having the condition in 2019. The figure is expected to increase to 108 million by 2045.

The IDF has estimated that in Saudi Arabia 15 percent of the adult population has diabetes.


UAE, Seychelles create travel corridor for vaccinated travelers

Updated 13 May 2021

UAE, Seychelles create travel corridor for vaccinated travelers

ABU DHABI: The UAE and the Seychelles said that vaccinated people can travel freely between the two countries following the mutual recognition of vaccine certificates issued by their respective authorities.
Quarantine-free travel between the two nations is possible from May 13 as they look to boost tourism in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Travelers must show they have received both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine through a valid certificate from the relevant health authority.


UAE and Saudi Arabia among biggest sources of remittances in 2020

Updated 13 May 2021

UAE and Saudi Arabia among biggest sources of remittances in 2020

  • Remittances from Saudi Arabia have been slowly declining since 2015 as oil prices have moderated

DUBAI: The UAE was the second largest source of remittances globally in 2020, followed by Saudi Arabia, according to the latest report from the World Bank.

The US was the biggest source country, sending $68 billion abroad last year, while the foreign workers in the UAE sent home $43 billion and those in Saudi Arabia transferred $35 billion, said the report, published Thursday. Among middle-income countries, immigrants to Russia were the biggest remitters, sending $17 billion.

Remittances from Saudi Arabia have been slowly declining since 2015 as oil prices have moderated and the government has encouraged hiring of nationals. For instance, foreign workers sent $1.8 billion to the Philippines in 2020, down 36 percent from 2015.

Despite the large drop in foreign workers in the GCC, remittances from Saudi Arabia held up in 2020 thanks in part to the cancelation of travel to Saudi Arabia, which diverted funds set aside for the Haj pilgrimage to remittances to Bangladesh and Pakistan, according to the report. Both of those countries offered tax incentives last year to boost remittances from migrant workers abroad, while a devastating flood in July 2020 also led to an increase in payments.

Remittances to the Middle East and North Africa rose by 2.3 percent to about $56 billion in 2020, following a 3.4 percent increase in 2019, the report said. The gains came amid unexpectedly strong inflows to Egypt (up 11 percent to a record $30 billion), the fifth-largest recipient of remittances globally, and to Morocco (6.5 percent to $7.4 billion). Tunisia saw a 2.5 percent increase, while other countries, including Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, and West Bank and Gaza all experienced double-digit declines.

Globally, remittances to low- and middle-income countries fell 1.6 percent to $540 billion, a smaller decline than expected, the World Bank said. The figure is forecast to increase to $553 billion this year and to $565 billion in 2022.


Turkish lira falls to weakest level this year

Updated 13 May 2021

Turkish lira falls to weakest level this year

  • Turkish currency weakens on inflation data
  • Latest losses focus attention on forex reserves

BENGALURU:Turkey’s lira fell to a six-month low on Thursday as risks of tighter US monetary policy after strong inflation data weighed on most emerging market assets, with stocks set for their worst day since late March.
The lira fell around 0.8 percent to 8.4968 against the dollar, just a few points shy of its 8.5789 record low. The currency was likely subject to offshore selling on Thursday, given that Turkish markets were closed for a holiday.
Recent losses in the lira have brought the focus back to Turkey’s shrinking foreign exchange reserves, as well as its central bank, which is hesitant to tighten policy even as inflation surges.
Data on Wednesday showed US consumer prices increased the most in nearly 12 years in April, raising expectations that the US Federal Reserve will tighten its monetary policy sooner than signalled.
The MSCI’s index of emerging market currencies fell 0.2 percent, its third day of declines, as the dollar advanced and yields on 10-year Treasuries marked their biggest daily rise in two months.
The MSCI’s index of emerging market stocks plunged 1.3 percent to a seven-week low.
“With yields moving higher and inflation expectations becoming increasingly un-anchored from 2 percent, expectations grew that the Fed might have to start normalizing monetary policy earlier than previously expected,” said Marshall Gittler, Head of Investment Research at BDSwiss Holding.
“There’s going to be a real struggle for control of the narrative between the Fed and the market for the next few months,” added Gittler.
The Russian rouble strengthened on Thursday, up 0.2 percent, recovering some losses sustained on Wednesday. Bloomberg reported that the country was planning bond buybacks to fix its COVID-ravaged debt market. (https://bloom.bg/33BhvxY)
South Africa’s rand held steady as higher gold prices outweighed interest rate risks and a stronger dollar.
Most Central European currencies gained on Thursday with the Czech crown, Hungarian forint and Polish zloty gaining between 0.2 percent and 0.3 percent.
Still, JPMorgan reiterated its underweight position in Central and Eastern European local bonds and currencies, warning of “taper tantrum” risk as central banks tighten monetary policy.
Central bank bond purchase programs in Hungary and Poland — to support their economies through the coronavirus crisis — have been among the largest in emerging markets over the past year.
Asian currencies and stocks declined, while Taiwan stocks dropped 1.5 percent and the dollar eased 0.2 percent on fears of a COVID-19 resurgence and as the island started a rotational electricity blackout after a major outage at a coal plant.