Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala: Developing a Stronger Trade Architecture in 2022

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Director-General of the World Trade Organization, explained how the WTO is approaching supply chain issues and the trajectory of global trade in 2022.


Air Date: May 11, 2022

Moderator: John G. Murphy, Senior Vice President for International Policy

Featured Guests: Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director-General, World Trade Organization

From the lingering COVID-19 pandemic to supply chain shortages to inflation, global challenges are impacting business and trade worldwide. Day two of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s 2nd Annual Global Forum examined how civilians, businesses, and leaders are dealing with these substantial shifts to the global trade landscape in 2022.

In conversation with John Murphy of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Director-General of the World Trade Organization, gave an overview of the trajectory of world trade today, explained the WTO’s multi-faceted approach to supply chain issues, and spoke about her hopes for the results of the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12).

The Trajectory of World Trade Today

Recently, people have started talking about de-globalization in trade — a rising skepticism Dr. Okonjo-Iweala feels had started even before the pandemic. However, she said, COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine have exacerbated those fears.

“I think the pandemic and the war on Ukraine just accelerated and heightened this feeling that the multilateral trading system and multilateralism as a whole [are] in trouble and can no longer deliver,” said Dr. Okonjo-Iweala.

However, the data continues to show the success of globalized trade.

“If you look at the actual numbers of trade flows, you will see what's happening on the ground doesn't speak to the multilateral trading system not working.” Dr. Okonjo-Iweala continued. “Consumers seem to be doing something somewhat different from what politicians are saying.”

WTO’s Multi-Faceted Approach to Supply Chain Issues

Within the WTO, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala and her team have tried to understand better whether there are issues in the supply chain besides supply and demand — such as structural issues — that may result in slower procedures.

At a recent supply chain conference, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala said she and her team identified the problems to be solved within supply chains, including a lack of truck drivers, a lack of port operators and airports, and shipping backups in Shanghai. Many of these issues were related to pandemic restrictions.

“We've gone from 119 export restrictions at the beginning of the pandemic down to about five,” said Dr. Okonjo-Iweala.

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala also responded to a TRIPS waiver question, as it pertained to the vaccine supply chain.

“I also believe that we need to incentivize research and development and that we must make sure that whatever we do does not disincentivize them,” she said.

Predictions for MC12 Deliverables

In late April 2022, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, chair of the MC12, and other leaders informed delegates the previously postponed event would take place in June 2022. The date fix, caused by a COVID omicron outbreak in Europe, falls amid lingering pandemic issues and Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Though challenging circumstances exist — primarily for many countries whose delegates say it will be difficult for them to work with the Russian delegation — Dr. Okonjo-Iweala urged attendees to work hard and deliver results.

“The strategy is to try to work on food security issues,” explained Dr. Okonjo-Iweala. “We hope [the delegates] will have something on the response to the pandemic, [on] issues of transparency and export restrictions, fisheries, and agriculture to at least advance the negotiations.”

“We're still looking for one or two deliverables,” she continued. “It won't be as robust as it was going to be [in November], but we still want to come out of it with a couple of concrete things achieved.”