WTO Official Says Caribbean Could Be Site For Medical Production

(CMC) – The Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Wednesday said the Caribbean could serve as a production site for goods such as vaccines and that efforts are being made to get manufacturers to invest in the region.

“We have to decentralise and we have asked the manufacturers to invest more in developing countries and emerging markets so that we can also produce,” she said during a panel discussion organised by the Central Bank of Barbados (CBB).

The discussion was on the topic “how trade can be used to address challenges related to public health, climate change, and food security” and included the President of the Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), Dr Gene Leon.

“I don’t see why we don’t have a production centre in the Caribbean for example,” she said, noting that the region could be used to develop the vaccine used in treating the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that has killed and infected millions of people globally as well as a therapeutic diagnostic centre.

“Why can’t we have a centre here? So we have been working with them to establish in Africa and I am very proud to say the African presidents have also been working hard and this is having an impact”.

She said that developing countries like those in the Caribbean also need to do much better on the issue of intellectual property and patent rights.

“Of course, everybody knows it is at the WTO the agreement was signed on access to patents for these vaccines and medical countermeasures, therapeutic and so on. Now we have two schools of thought at the WTO among our 164 members, over 100 developing countries and emerging markets want to have a waiver so that they can have access to the intellectual property rights to manufacture the vaccines.

“There are others who feel this would disincentivise research and production so we don’t agree,” she said, adding that as the WTO director-general, she can’t take sides.

“I think we need to save lives, it is as simple as that. I believe all WTO members want that. But we need to have a compromise….so we can have better access to intellectual property whilst not disincentivising research and production.

“Does that solution exist, the answer is absolutely and we are working on it right now,” she said, noting that in the Caribbean there are strong skills and literacy rates.

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

“This is something the region needs to look at and build upon it. Here you have got medical…in most of the Caribbean countries you have got overseas medical facilities, so you do have the possibility to do that,” the WTO official added.

Earlier, Okonjo-Iweala said rules governing trade, particularly in the crisis, could be much better.