WTO head: Vaccine production possible in region

The head of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) sees an opportunity for the Caribbean to be a production centre for vaccines.

WTO director-general Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said the region already has knowledge bases to do so as she reflected on the vaccine inequity that emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Nigerian economist was speaking on Wednesday during a discussion titled The Role Of Trade In Global Public Goods, which was held by the Central Bank at the Frank Collymore Hall.

The event also featured Caribbean Development Bank President Dr Gene Leon and was moderated by Dr Jan Yves Remy, director of the Shridath Ramphal Centre for International Trade Law, Policy and Services, University of the West Indies, Cave Hill.

Okonjo-Iweala, who served on the CARICOM Commission On The Economy, acknowledged that the WTO rules governing vaccine procurement “could be much better”.

“I would like to see us at the WTO agree to a set of rules so that in a futuer pandemic we don’t have to debate issues anymore but automatically some rules, some modalities, for being part of the solution will automatically kick in,” she said.

Beyond that, she suggested the decentralisation of vaccine production, noting that the WTO “asked the manufacturers to invest more in developing countries and emerging markets so that [they] also produce”.

“I don’t see why we cannot have a production centre in the Caribbean, for example, where you [produce] one of the vaccines or even the therapeutics and diagnostics. Why can’t we have a centre here?” she asked.

The official said the Caribbean “has a very strong advantage with regard to skills and literacy rates”.

“If you look across the region, one of the things you do have is human resources and human capital and you need an ecosystem to be able to manufacture these vaccines and part of that is ecosystem of knowledge. And given the base you have in those skills and human capital, I think this is one advantage,” she said.

“This is something the region here needs to look at and build on those resources. Here you have got medical schools also, in many of the Caribbean countries, you have got overseas medical facilities so you do have a possibility to do that.” (SC)

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