Great News for the WTO – and for the Multilateralism of Today

Good news keeps coming on the US return to multilateralism: The selection of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to be the next Director-General of the World Trade Organization has finally been cleared for official approval by the WTO General Council (which is now scheduled for 15 February 2021). Just a week ago, two different but coordinated announcements were issued. One came from the Korean government announcing the withdrawal of their candidate, Yoo Myung-hee; the other came from the Biden administration announcing that the US would join the rest of the consensus of the WTO members in support of the Nigerian candidate, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. This was a truly diplomatic way to clear the way for the one without embarrassing the other.

I am personally pleased to congratulate Ms. Okonjo-Iweala on her impending success, and I congratulate Ms. Yoo Myung-hee and the other candidates for the gracious manner in which they welcomed the outcome. What a contrast to the domestic scene in the US!  Above and beyond this contrast, however, I would like to focus this note more broadly on what Ms. Okonjo-Iweala’s leadership means for the WTO – and for the changing world of multilateralism. Continue reading “Great News for the WTO – and for the Multilateralism of Today”

Further Reflections on the US Return to Global Health

Following the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on 20 January 2021, we have been treated to a lively first 10 days – announcing new directions on COVID-19, climate, racial equity, the economy, health care, immigration, and restoring America’s global standing.  While all these initiatives are very welcome, my focus here has been on the Biden Administration’s top domestic priority of controlling the pandemic – but from my usual global and multi-stakeholder perspective. And the good news on that score is that the US has returned to linking that domestic priority to active engagement in global health.  I shared my preliminary reflections on this good news last week (21 January 2021 and available here), and I have appreciated the lively reader comments and questions. Here is an update at the 10-day mark for the unfolding of the Biden Administration’s busy agenda on pandemic and health issues, along with my responses to the points raised by readers about the nature of US engagement globally and the prospects for a global response to the pandemic. Continue reading “Further Reflections on the US Return to Global Health”

So Far, So Good on the US at the WHO and at the COVAX Facility

The good news of the “day after”, above and beyond the happy sensation of savoring the smooth flow of democracy in action, was the carry-through on seeing the adults back in the room on multilateralism in global health and the pandemic. What do I mean? Well, the day that I am referring to is 20 January 2021, the day that was filled with pomp and ceremony (but no crowds) for the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to lead the United States government. On the day itself,  President Biden signed over a dozen executive orders to put things back in place, as it were. And on the “day after”, we witnessed the follow-through on a new national strategy on the COVID-19 response and pandemic preparedness. Here are some preliminary reflections on the good news, with the caveat that the journey is not yet over. Continue reading “So Far, So Good on the US at the WHO and at the COVAX Facility”

Gender 2021: Post-Pandemic? Post-Beijing?

As we come to the end of 2020, we are taking some time to recall those things that we didn’t get to celebrate together. Fair enough. It isn’t that I thought of gender when I sat down to do an end-of-year reflection of this awful 2020. Rather, I just happened to be sitting down to write down my thoughts on gender on this penultimate day of 2020 and thought to myself: I should prepare an outline of what my main points might be. And oh yes, one of those main points is that this year of 2020 was the 25-year anniversary of the Beijing Platform and Declaration on the Rights of Women. Major events and visible displays of the anniversary had been planned for Mexico in April and then France in May, but then the whole process leading up to these events was abruptly suspended, and the main events were postponed until 2021. Continue reading “Gender 2021: Post-Pandemic? Post-Beijing?”

Looking to US Action in Support of the Global Pandemic Response

When President-elect Biden takes office on January 20, 2021, quick action is expected from the new administration on global health issues. This action should take into account the following three ways that the global health arena has changed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic:

  1. Supporting the new multilateral frameworks that are being enabled by and often inspired by a multitude of different kinds of stakeholders, especially non-state actors;
  2. Expanding the global approach for an equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and other tools as they become available; and
  3. Engaging in a broadened dialogue on how collaboration and innovation need to be adapted to changed circumstances in the related areas of intellectual property and trade.

This commentary starts with a brief summary of these three points, followed by an in-depth analysis of each point. Continue reading “Looking to US Action in Support of the Global Pandemic Response”

Looking to an American Future for a Global Response to COVID-19

As a long-term advocate of multilateralism, I am inspired by the amazing outreach from multiple American institutions and individuals to engage in global collaboration on fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been an embarrassment to be an American in the past four years of a flawed Presidency, but the readiness of Americans to circumvent its barriers in order to participate with others in such initiatives as the Access to COVID—19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-Accelerator) and especially the new COVAX Facility for global vaccine distribution is truly phenomenal.

In order to build on that spontaneous outpouring of American expertise and compassion, the new administration in Washington should join in this effort. The US needs to return to its leadership role in global health matters, but this requires an appreciation for how the pandemic has transformed the issues and the actors. Thus, special attention should be directed to (1) supporting the new multilateral frameworks that are enabled by and often inspired by a multitude of different kinds of stakeholders, (2) expanding the global approach to the equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and other tools as they become available, and (3) engaging in a constructive dialogue on the pricing and availability issues in this and future pandemics. Continue reading “Looking to an American Future for a Global Response to COVID-19”

Why the US Should Support Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to Head the World Trade Organization

In the current selection process for a new director-general at the World Trade Organization, the United States has vetoed an otherwise consensus-supported candidate Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. I believe it is a mistake for the US to block her selection to this post. It is obvious to me that Ms. Okonjo-Iweala is the far more well qualified candidate and the best choice for leading the WTO in the challenging times we have today.

Continue reading “Why the US Should Support Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to Head the World Trade Organization”

Reflections on RBG

Ruth Bader Ginsburg has passed away at a time when her loss to the US Supreme Court — and to America – promises to wreak havoc on the American political scene. Rest in peace, dear “notorious” RBG. And deepest condolences to her family, friends, colleagues,  law clerks and admirers. She is someone who reached out to and embraced a wide audience. “Fight for the things that you care about,” she said.  “But do it in a way,” she emphasized, “that will lead others to join you.”  I am among those who benefited and learned from this commitment  of hers to both action and inclusiveness.

Continue reading “Reflections on RBG”

The Political Lens on COVID-19: Time for Vaccine Multilateralism

The prospects of “vaccine nationalism” are an alarming development for COVID-19.  They are aggravated by the looming US-China divide but also by the lack of global leadership from the US for any alternative to it.  These aggravations are hurting the potential for the emergence of “vaccine multilateralism”, whether through the World Health Organization (WHO), the G-20 or some other global forum.   But one can still identify some countervailing signs from an initiative known as the ACT-Accelerator initiative and its vaccine development pillar.  More public awareness needs to be mobilized in support of this initiative – and in support of vaccine multilateralism generally. The message has to be – and can be – that “We’re only safe if we’re all safe”. Continue reading “The Political Lens on COVID-19: Time for Vaccine Multilateralism”

Rest in Peace, John Lewis

It was an impromptu afternoon in April. The US Representative John Lewis and the French President Emmanuel Macron caught everyone by surprise as they showed up unannounced at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, walking leisurely together and chatting over the inscriptions on the walls there. That was in 2018, when the two had instantly warmed to each other on the occasion of President Macron’s address to a joint session of Congress. The spontaneity in their new friendship had led the President to ask Representative Lewis for a tour of the Memorial on that warm springtime afternoon. No wonder, then, that President Macron was so personal in expressing his condolences over the passing of this civil rights icon on July 17. As I reflect on my own memories of John Lewis’ legacy, I am heartened by this connection to President Macron. Continue reading “Rest in Peace, John Lewis”