Prime Minister and Chairman of the OECS Authority, Hon. Roosevelt Skerrit extended warmest congratulations on behalf of the OECS, to Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on being the first woman and first African to be appointed to the post, reiterating the OECS’ support for her candidacy. Given the precarious times facing small island developing states (SIDS) – ‘a once in a generation pandemic; a climate crisis and environmental emergency; a dangerous trend towards hyper-nationalism, deglobalization and multilateral backsliding’ – Prime Minister Skerrit expressed the OECS’ confidence in Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s leadership of the WTO and her ability to address some of the challenges facing SIDS in the Eastern Caribbean.
Dr. Didacus Jules, in welcoming Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, expressed gratitude to the Director General for making the time for these important discussions being deeply conscious of the importance of the months ahead, leading to the next WTO Trade Ministeral conference. He extended apologies on behalf of the Heads of Governments who were unavoidably absent given the pressures of time on their end, where several urgencies had precluded the participation by some, nevertheless, Member States were fully represented.
Dr. Okonjo-Iweala congratulated the OECS on its 40th anniversary observance as a regional institution. While thanking the Authority for its support, she expressed gratitude for the opportunity to present herself and her vision to the Trade Ministers at a previous meeting, and reiterated that the issues of importance to the OECS will remain uppermost priorities for the WTO. The Director General promised to remain a close friend of the region and acknowledged and expressed gratitude for the unflinching support that she had received during her campaign.
Dr. Okonjo-Iweala acknowledged the effects the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the OECS Member States and commended the efforts that were being made by OECS Member States to contain the pandemic. Despite all and ongoing efforts, the Director General acknowledged that it was very apparent ‘the mammoth task’ which laid ahead in ‘reestablishing the fiscal footing of the economies’ of the OECS stating that,
“the economic fallout had been widespread, from youth unemployment to rising debt pressures on governments that already had limited fiscal space to respond to the crisis.”
On the issue of vaccine access, she reaffirmed that she was of the view that ‘vaccine policy is economic policy’ and that it was important that the OECS worked quickly to make accessibility of vaccines one of the cardinal points of the recovery for the region, given the dependency of the region on the tourism industry. She confirmed that the WTO, IMF, World Bank and the WHO had joined hands calling on governments to invest $50 billion in accelerating vaccine production and deployment.
Special and Differential Treatments for SIDS was a matter of importance to the WTO, one which the Caribbean had been an active participant in, through the Special Session of the Committee on trade and development. The meeting expressed hope that the matter would be included as a proposal for ministerial decision at the forthcoming Ministerial Conference .
The 12th WTO Ministerial Conference proposed for December 2021 in Geneva will target concrete deliverables, since the WTO has not had success in completing a multilateral round of negotiations. The Director General highlighted four key areas of focus will include, trade and health; fisheries subsidies; agriculture as well as the dispute settlement system which has been paralyzed for some time.
The WTO Director General appealed to the Heads of Governments to help with the fisheries subsidies negotiations by ensuring that Ministers of Agriculture and Fisheries are active in finding landing zones and, are collaborating with Ministers of Trade on these negotiations so that together harmful subsidies can be restrained. She implored Heads of Governments to grant greater flexibility to their and Ministers and Ambassadors as they attend those negotiations.
In closing, Dr. Okonjo- Iweala urged OECS Member States to engage other WTO Member States with an interest in reforming the dispute settlement system, to encourage them to be more forthcoming about the changes they want to see. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala reminded the Authority of the importance of the dispute settlement system and the link between rule-making and adjudication of those rules.