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)
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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.


Ramadan harvest begins in Saudi Arabia’s city of roses

Updated 56 min 59 sec ago

Ramadan harvest begins in Saudi Arabia’s city of roses

  • Smallest vials sell for SR400 ($106).
  • Harvest falls during Ramadan this year

TAIF: Every spring, roses bloom in the western Saudi city of Taif, turning pockets of the Kingdom’s vast desert landscape a vivid and fragrant pink.
In April, they are harvested for the essential oil used to cleanse the outer walls of the sacred Kaaba in Makkah.
This year, the harvest falls during Ramadan.
Workers at the Bin Salman farm tend rose bushes and pick tens of thousands of flowers each day to produce rose water and oil, also prized components in the cosmetic and culinary industries.
The perfumed oil has become popular among the millions of Muslims who visit the Kingdom every year for pilgrimages.
Patterns of plants and flowers have long been part of Islamic art.
Known as the city of roses, with approximately 300 million blooms every year, Taif has more than 800 flower farms, many of which have opened their doors to visitors.
While workers pick flowers in the fields, others labor in sheds, filling and weighing baskets by hand.
The flowers are then boiled and distilled.
“We start boiling the roses on high heat until they are almost evaporated, and this takes around 30 to 35 minutes,” Khalaf Al-Tuweiri, who owns the Bin Salman farm, told AFP.
“After that we lower the heat for around 15 to 30 minutes until the distilling process starts, which lasts for eight hours.”
Once the oil floats to the top of the glass jars, the extraction process begins.
The oil is then extracted with a large syringe to fill different-sized vials, the smallest going for SR400 ($106).


Binladin International carries out largest debt restructuring in the region

Updated 16 April 2021

Binladin International carries out largest debt restructuring in the region

  • As much as 75% of Binladin's debts are held by Saudi banks
  • Formal agreement with creditors may be reached by end June

RIYADH: Saudi Binladin International Holding is carrying out the largest debt restructuring in the Middle East, close to SR33 billion ($8.7 billion), with as much as 75 percent involving Saudi banks, said CEO Khalid Al Gwaiz on Thursday.
The company has obtained principal approvals from creditors for the debt restructuring and hopes to reach a formal agreement with them by the end of June and a final agreement by September, Al Gwaiz told Al Arabiya.
Binladin has an integrated transformation program that includes budget structuring and changes to its business model with the aim of helping it cope with recent developments in the market, he said.
The regional construction sector has been hit hard by the weakening of oil prices since 2014 and the associated decline in the real estate sector which has plunged some of the industry’s biggest names into financial distress.
Binladin has identified about SR1 trillion of opportunities in the Kingdom’s construction market linked to huge government projects that will allow it to pay creditors, Al Gwaiz said.


Ever Given insurance company says $900m compensation claim is unjustified

Updated 16 April 2021

Ever Given insurance company says $900m compensation claim is unjustified

  • Insurer says it made a generous offer on April 12
  • Crew of Ever Given remains on board ship

RIYADH: The insurance company for the Ever Given, which blocked the Suez Canal for almost a week in March, said it was disappointed by the court order to detain the vessel until $900 million compensation is paid after it had already made a generous offer to settle the claim.

The offer to the Suez Canal Authority was made in cooperation with the Japanese company that owns the ship on April 12th, Al Arabiya reported. However, the ship, its cargo and crew are being held until an agreement is reached, said the insurance company, UK Protection and Indemnity Club.

The Economic Court in Ismailia, Egypt, approved a request submitted by the Suez Canal Authority on Monday, to seize on the ship until $900 million is paid to cover the cost of freeing the ship and the disruption to traffic on the canal.

The insurer described the figure as “huge” and unjustified and said it is working with all concerned parties to ensure the release of the ship, its cargo and 25-person crew.

The Ever Given, currently in the Great Bitter Lake region, will move to Port Said for further examination, the insurance company said.


Saudi NESCO to replace 74,000 streetlamps with LEDs in Riyadh

Updated 16 April 2021

Saudi NESCO to replace 74,000 streetlamps with LEDs in Riyadh

  • Replacing lights will cut power consumption by 70%

RIYADH: The National Energy Efficiency Services Company (NESCO) will replace 74,000 traditional “sodium” lamps with other smart systems (LED) lights, in 8 municipalities of the Riyadh region.

Agreements between NESCO, also known as Tarshid, and municipalities were signed on Wednesday, SPA reported.

The LEDs will reduce power consumption by more than 70 percent, avoiding more than 48,000 metric tons of carbon emissions, equivalent to planting 810,000 trees.

The agreements aim to set unified standards for street lighting at the international level, in accordance with the Saudi Standards, Metrology and Quality Organization (SASO).

Tarshid has completed 12 previous agreements with the region’s municipalities, and will soon sign 27 agreements to include the remaining 47 municipalities, CEO Walid bin Abdullah Al-Ghariri said.


Saudi Public Transport Authority launches 15 business centers across the Kingdom

Updated 16 April 2021

Saudi Public Transport Authority launches 15 business centers across the Kingdom

  • Cities served will include Riyadh, Jeddah, Makkah and Dammam

RIYADH: Saudi Public Transport Authority has launched business centers in 15 cities across the Kingdom, to provide licensing and customer support services.
The cities include Riyadh, Makkah, Madinah, Jeddah, Dammam and Al-Ahsa, as well as Qassim, Tabuk, Hail, Arar, Al-Jouf, Al-Baha, Asir, Najran and Jizan, SPA reported.
The Authority seeks to enhance the logistics sector in the Kingdom in line with Vision 2030 goals, said General Supervisor of Operations at the Public Transport Authority Fahad Albadah.
The business centers will allow clients to implement multiple services through the digital package provided by the Naql gateway, Albadah said.