The Director-General of the World Trade Organization, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, wants Nigeria and Africa to strengthen their manufacturing capacities in order to produce vaccines.
Okonjo-Iweala said this during her visit to the Minister of State for Industry, Trade and Investment, Ambassador Mariam Katagum, on Thursday in Abuja as a follow-up to the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference that took place in Geneva, Switzerland. Okonjo-Iweala said the events of COVID-19, where developed countries placed restrictions on vaccines going to developing nations, should serve as an eye opener to all.
She noted that Africa imported 99 per cent of its vaccines and 95 per cent of pharmaceutical products, stressing that this was not good enough. She further said that the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement had made provisions for any country with capacity to override patent rights and manufacture COVID-19 vaccine, urging Nigeria to rise up to the occasion. “We should have our capacity to manufacture vaccines. We are also looking at extending it to include therapeutics and diagnostics,” she said.
She said that one of the prominent decisions reached at the ministerial conference, also known as MC 12, was the Agreement on Fisheries Subsidy, which was targeted at ensuring that countries did not overfish or fish illegally, disclosing that overfishing had risen from 7 per cent in 1970 to almost 50 per cent recently. She noted that a $20m fund had been set up to enable countries to build capacities for fisheries, out of which about $5m had been realised.
“The first thing Nigeria needs to do is to deposit its instrument of acceptance. We need two-thirds of countries worldwide to deposit the instrument, but I would like Nigeria to be among the first,” she said. On her part, Katagum said among the raft of decisions reached at the MC 12, the Ministry, in collaboration with relevant stakeholders, had met to specifically consider the Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies and deliberated on how Nigeria could implement it while also taking advantage of the opportunities presented by the newly created WTO Fish Fund.
The Minister further said that Nigeria would also engage constructively with the membership towards extending the MC 12 decision on the TRIPS Agreement to cover the production and supply of COVID-19 diagnostics and therapeutics as envisaged under paragraph 8 of the decision. “We will also be playing a constructive role in the negotiations on Fisheries Subsidies especially with regards to the outstanding issues of forms of fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing.”
She drew Okonjo-Iweala’s attention to Nigeria’s capacity difficulties which had continued to undermine its effective participation in the multilateral trading system.
She said while acknowledging the capacity-building efforts of the WTO around training of officers on international trade governance, there was a need for more targeted technical assistance from the WTO. “The needed assistance includes WTO-funded National Programmes which may comprise Workshops on the implementation of covered Agreements. We are also in need of Assistance to Nigerian Universities in the field of Trade Policy Research, and other Technical Assistance programme offered by the WTO,” she noted.