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WTO and the development agenda amidst a global pandemic

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  • G7 2021 meeting in Oxford centring on how to distribute vaccines fairly can be argued to be mere public relations work done for the elite six nations and the EU with no genuine attempt to modernising trade for development, writes Michelle Chabanga.

By Michelle S Chabanga

COVID-19 has by itself beyond measure illustrated to be more than a moment of existential crisis laden with expensive lessons for humanity.

As advanced the 4th industrial revolution in the majority of the more economically developed countries, seems people can never prepare for everything but the least society expects are conceivable reactions.

Seismic shift brought about by 4th industrial revolution has further widened the gap between the rich and the poor nations as trade and in particular e-commerce faces a not so thin end of the wedge in the form of digital protectionism.

Digital trade supervenes the revolution’s advanced technologies underpinned by digitised infrastructure such as satellite service, wireless technologies, telecommunications, high speed connectivity network like 5G and broadband.

Such advances in connectivity and communication form the benchmark of future solution making to the various socio-economic challenges and climate change induced problems affecting the motherland’s poorer nations. Inevitably, many if not all inferior countries in the future will be laggard in digital trade with patent and intellectual property barriers adversely affecting expansion of trade services and import-exports diversification.

G7 2021 meeting in Oxford centring on how to distribute vaccines fairly can be argued to be mere public relations work done for the elite six nations and the EU with no genuine attempt to modernising trade for development.

On paper, the agenda being to a reformed, free and fair multilateral trading system to ensure mutual global economic recovery although there is evident dissonance amongst what is the reality and perception. 4th industrial revolution enabled computerisation in manufacturing facilitated swift development of vaccines from mere computer designs into admissible jabs but availability is not for all and sundry which renders tackling the virus a blind alley.

With some nations, a few million doses away from reaching herd immunity they seem armed to the hilt. Ironically, the leading pharmaceutical companies driving covid vaccines are from the G7, namely are US firms Johnson & Johnson, Novavax, Pfizers and Moderna, AstraZeneca which is British-Swedish. They hold a firm grip on the global market as recognisable manufactures of the valuable inoculations with the exception of the Chinese Sinovac Biotech and Russia’s Gamaleya Institute.

There isn’t enough ample evidence to attest to the utopian idea of multilateralism and free trade with its advocates apparently labouring under substantial misapprehensions as the numerous regional, continental and elitist trade blocs are mere self-regarding entities are not moulded to suit the current purposes.

The bland World Trade Organisation will continue to be asphyxiated by our own undoing as the intergovernmental organisation in its twenty six years of existence solely is mandated with overseeing, supervising and liberalising world trade using global rules for trade between nations. Under the aegis of regulating and facilitating global trade between nations and bloc, World Trade Organisation’s sternest test to their action stations currently is the impediments to equitable access to precious covid vaccines.

Opponents are counterattacking COVID-19 vaccines patent wavering by the US thus the jury is out on whether World Trade Organisation will aid and abet considering the Paris’ summit pledge to support wavering encountered European Union’s divisions. Will greed triumph over principles and humanity with AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson already pledging to provide vaccines on basis of non-profit-making basis until pandemic ceases.

It begs the question if market-altering policies and practices such as vaccine hoarding can be counteracted by forced or agreed technology transfer for broader global availability as G7 hopes to collaborate with World Trade Organisation and World Health Organisation in expanding inclusive vaccine manufacturing and distribution.

Congenial to the needs of the poorer global citizens co-operation with wealthy nations, COVAX Taskforce, and ACT-A may consequently lead to an exponential increase in capacity to hasten worldwide vaccination.

It remains to be seen if the constant criticism on the World Trade Organisation and its effectiveness as a multinational entity for trade will make way for credit amidst these trying times. □

About the author

Michelle S Chabanga
  • Michelle. S Chabanga holds a master of science in Politics and International Relations. – Zimbabwe Voice

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