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India offers Gandhi’s talisman to new WTO chief

New Director-General of the World Trade Organisation Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala adjusts her face mask during a session of the WTO General Council. (AFP)Premium
New Director-General of the World Trade Organisation Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala adjusts her face mask during a session of the WTO General Council. (AFP)

  • A former finance and foreign minister of Nigeria, Ngozi takes charge of WTO at a time when the multilateral trading system is facing an existential crisis with a dysfunctional appellate body and growing protectionist measures. Ngozi is also the first woman and first African to hold the position.

After taking over as the director general of the World Trade Organisation, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala made a statement of sort on Wednesday when she chose Indian Mission in Geneva as her first stop for bilateral meeting.

A former finance and foreign minister of Nigeria, Ngozi takes charge of WTO at a time when the multilateral trading system is facing an existential crisis with a dysfunctional appellate body and growing protectionist measures. Ngozi is also the first woman and first African to hold the position.

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India’s ambassador to the WTO Brajendra Navnit addressing the Special General Council meeting on 15 February invoked Mahatma Gandhi’s talisman as the guiding light for Ngozi while taking decisions. “Mahatma Gandhi, who began his civil rights movement while in Africa, had given us a talisman which I am sure that Dr. Ngozi is aware of, he had suggested a test when in doubt while taking a decision. We encourage Dr. Ngozi to apply this test whenever in doubt and be guided by the need for promoting the welfare of world’s vast population of the poor and the vulnerable. We hope that under her leadership the outcomes that the WTO delivers will improve their lives. India looks forward to closely working with Dr. Ngozi towards this end," he said.

On her first day in office on 1 March, Ngozi said it cannot be business as usual at WTO. “We have to change our approach from debate and rounds of questions to delivering results. We need to prioritise action on covid-19 both for the immediate and longer term and focus on completing the fisheries subsidies negotiations before the middle of the year," she added.

India and South Africa have proposed at the WTO an intellectual property right waiver for coronavirus vaccines to ensure timely and affordable access to the vaccines especially for the poor countries. The move has been opposed by the developed countries holding it will come with huge cost to the pharmaceutical industry. India has in turn asked why the commercial interests of Big Pharma alone are being protected even as industries reel under the impact of the pandemic and countries struggle to access vaccines. Gandhi’s talisman may come in handy for Ngozi to deal with what appears is going to be her first major challenge at the WTO.

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