SPEECHES — DG NGOZI OKONJO-IWEALA

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Excellencies, colleagues, dear friends,

Let me join my brother Dr Tedros in letting you know how delighted I am you were able to join us today to look at where we stand on the vaccine equity challenge. Thank you so much for being here.

In April, when we had our first dialogue under Chatham House rules, I promised it would not be a one-off. So I am happy to resume the conversation three months later. A lot has happened since April.

On the positive side of the ledger, the vaccine rollout has accelerated.

    • In June, 1.1 billion doses were administered worldwide: 45% more than in May, and more than double the total for April.
    • COVAX has now delivered over 134 million doses to 136 economies.
    • Vaccine production is also picking up. According to Airfinity, a further one billion doses were produced in June, bringing total global production by mid-July to 3.8 billion.
    • Estimates are that global production this year could reach 11 billion doses, provided new vaccines, such as Novavax and several others, secure regulatory approval. If production does reach 11 billion, it could help take care of global demand — in the absence of booster shot requirements.

On the negative side of the ledger, over a million people have died since 14 April. And vaccine inequity is, by some measures, getting worse.

    • Of those 1.1 billion doses in June, only 1.4% went to Africans, who account for 17% of the global population. Only 0.24% went to people in low-income countries. And both shares declined even further in the first half of July.
    • In developed countries, 94 doses have been administered for every 100 residents. In Africa, the figure is 4.5. In low-income countries, it's 1.6.
    • In Africa, only 20 million people, or 1.5% of the population, are fully vaccinated, compared to 42% of people in developed countries.
      • We cannot accept this, for moral, practical, and economic reasons.

As the Delta variant goes global, it has been called “a tale of two pandemics.”

    • Across Asia, Africa, and Latin America, where vaccination rates are low, COVID-19 deaths are reaching new highs.
    • Meanwhile, in highly vaccinated countries, more infections have not, at least for now, been tracked by rising hospitalisation and fatality rates.

Additional grounds for concern come from the possibility that some of the new vaccine production coming online could be rendered less effective by new variants, or will end up going to low-risk groups and booster shots.

Production remains highly centralised — about 75% of this year's vaccines appear set to come from five WTO members — China, India, Germany, the United States, and France. And there is little transparency with regard to vaccine contracts or input markets, though the new COVAX marketplace should help match input demand with supply.

Unequal access to vaccines is a major reason for the global economy's K-shaped recovery, in which advanced economies and a few others are surging ahead, while the rest lag behind amid rising poverty, hunger and unemployment.

Part of the rationale for today's conference is to get a better understanding of what is happening in terms of vaccine production.

    • From manufacturers, we'd like to hear about your current and projected levels of vaccine production in 2021 and 2022, as well as the bottlenecks you have encountered — and your ideas for tackling these.
    • From manufacturers and partners such as IFC and Afreximbank, I'd like to hear about the investments in increased production capacity you have made or received, or are planning, particularly in emerging markets and developing countries.
    • For those managing intellectual property rights, we'd like to hear about the factors influencing your decisions about technology and knowhow transfer, as well as when to license IP in particular, and what would encourage these actions.
    • From ministers and members, we would like to know how distribution issues are working out on the ground, and about particular problems you have encountered.
    • And from everyone, we want to hear your thoughts on how we can do better on access, innovation, and diversifying the vaccine production base.

This meeting is under Chatham House rules, so I hope you will all speak frankly.

At the WTO, we have been busy since the April meeting.

In May, Dr Tedros and I joined hands with our counterparts from the IMF and the World Bank to call for $50 billion in up-front investments in increasing vaccination around the world, to save lives and give a $9 trillion boost to the world economy.

Last month, we at the WTO held a technical symposium on Supply Chain and Regulatory Transparency. The idea was to better understand supply chain bottlenecks and how they can be overcome, so we can be more helpful to manufacturers' efforts to boost vaccine production.

We have worked with the World Customs Organization, the OECD, researchers, companies, and other stakeholders to develop a living list of key vaccine inputs, as well as another list of policy and regulatory issues affecting trade in them. We hope you will find this piece of work useful.

Because vaccine ingredients and production equipment are complex and frequently too granular to be captured by the internationally standardised product classifications that customs agencies use, these lists should help make it easier to monitor and compare trade flows, and to better target trade facilitating measures.

This work suggests that of the about 50 COVID-related export restrictions that remain in force, approximately 27 could affect some vaccine ingredients and manufacturing materials. An additional 10 cover gloves, PPE and other products needed to administer vaccines.

I thank those of you who have been part of this work, and urge everyone to look at the lists, which are on our website, and to let us know what needs adding — or removing.

On the negotiating front, as you know we have moved to text-based negotiations on the TRIPS waiver proposal. These are moving slowly at this time, as members try to reconcile differing views and approaches. We are currently working hard to see how we can help members bridge their gaps and move these negotiations forward.

Members have also put forward ideas on a wider set of health-related concerns, such as export restrictions, tariff cuts, trade facilitation, and increasing vaccine production and distribution, in addition to intellectual property issues.

One of our most highly respected ambassadors, Ambassador David Walker of New Zealand, has been named by the General Council Chair as facilitator for the WTO's response to COVID-19. He is leading members in a process to try to tie these different elements together into a framework ahead of our 12th Ministerial Conference so that ministers can approve a ministerial declaration or decision on these issues; not just for our response to this pandemic but to prepare for the next.

I hope our discussions here today will help inform members' work on a WTO response to pandemics, so meetings like this one aren't necessary next time.

Thank you and I wish us all a fruitful afternoon.

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