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New WTO Chief to Prioritise Access to the Vaccine

Fixing the World Trade Organisation (WTO) is not enough for Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the first woman and first African to lead it. On the day she was appointed as director-general, she announced that she wanted to help bring an end to the pandemic, too. The two are related; she hopes to encourage members to lift export restrictions on food and medical products, and even stimulate vaccine production. The former Nigerian finance minister and chairwoman of gavi, a vaccine-finance agency, is not alone in thinking the WTO could do more. When the pandemic first struck the WTO seemed largely irrelevant. That was partly by design: it permits trade restrictions if they protect health. Global Trade Alert (gta), a watchdog, recorded 202 export restrictions on medical supplies and personal-protective equipment between January and September 2020. Members’ failure to alert the WTO of their actions was more egregious. Bernard Hoekman of the European University Institute calculated that over a similar period gta recorded more than twice the number of trade measures reported to the WTO.