By Ere-ebi Agedah
World Trade Organization chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala expressed cautious optimism on Sunday that more than 100 trade ministers meeting in Geneva would achieve one or two global deals this week, but warned the path there would be bumpy and rocky.
The director-general from Nigeria said the world had changed since the WTO’s last ministerial conference nearly five years ago.
“I wish I could say for better. It has certainly become more complicated,” she told a news conference before the June 12-15 meeting, listing the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ukraine war, and major food and energy crises as pieces of a “polycrisis”.
Speaking to ministers at the opening, the WTO chief urged them to “show the world that the WTO can step up to the plate” and achieve agreements on subjects such as reducing fishing subsidies, boosting access to COVID-19 vaccines, addressing food security and setting a course for reform of the WTO itself.
“What remains to be decided requires political will and I know you have it – to get us over the finish line,” she said.
With its first ministerial meeting in years, the WTO faces pressure to finally eke out long-sought trade deals and show unity amid the still raging pandemic and an impending global hunger crisis.
Top of the agenda as the four-day meeting kicks off is the toll Russia’s war in Ukraine, traditionally a breadbasket that feeds hundreds of millions of people, is having on food security.
EU trade commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis said the bloc had been “working hard with all the members to prepare a multilateral food security package,” and slammed Russia for “using food and grain as a weapon of war”.
The WTO is hoping to keep criticism of Russia’s war in Ukraine to the first day of talks when many of the more than 100 ministers due to attend are expected to issue blistering statements.
But with many flatly refusing to negotiate directly with Moscow, there are fears this could bleed into the following days, when the WTO wants to focus on nailing down elusive trade deals.