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WTO boss seeks boost for COVID-19 vaccine production, gets backing

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By Emma Farge

GENEVA (Reuters) – The World Trade Organization’s chief on Tuesday called for action on boosting COVID-19 vaccine production in developing countries as several members of the global trade watchdog urged her to hold urgent talks with manufacturers to do so.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former Nigerian finance minister who was until recently chair of the board of global vaccine alliance GAVI, took on the top job at the global trade watchdog last week. She has said health and vaccine access would be a top priority.

“The fact is that each additional day the vaccine shortage continues, people will pay with their lives,” Okonjo-Iweala said at a two-day summit focused on COVID-19 vaccine production, adding that around 130 countries were still waiting for vaccines.

She added that new vaccine manufacturing sites could be prepared in six to seven months or less than half the time previously thought.

In a sign that her ideas are gaining traction, seven of the body’s 164 members released a document on Tuesday urging her to hold urgent talks with COVID-19 vaccine developers and manufacturers on boosting production. The WTO chief has few executive powers and members’ support is essential.

“… The WTO should rapidly make use of its resources to the full extent to foster a prompt, pragmatic and tangible acceleration in the global response to COVID-19, and particularly the global distribution of COVID-19 vaccines,” said the document co-sponsored by Australia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, New Zealand, Norway and Turkey.

In parallel, WTO members are also due to discuss a possible waiver for intellectual property rights for COVID-19 drugs on Wednesday that could allow producers in more countries to begin manufacturing shots.

However, talks are currently deadlocked with several wealthy countries opposing the waiver, saying it would undermine the expensive research that allowed the production of COVID-19 vaccines in the first place.

Okonjo-Iweala also said in her speech that pandemic-related export restrictions had fallen in recent months, urging countries to drop or reduce the remaining ones or set timelines for their phase-out to help minimise problems in the vaccine supply chain.

The COVAX vaccine-sharing programme, created to provide vaccines for poor and middle-income countries and backed by the GAVI alliance and the World Health Organisation (WHO), late in February began rolling out delivery of doses to African countries. It said earlier this month that it would deliver 237 millions doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccination to 142 countries by the end of May.

 

(Reporting by Emma Farge; Editing by Franklin Paul and Jonathan Oatis)

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Trudeau nominates first judge of colour to sit on Supreme Court

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday made history by nominating the first judge of color to sit on the country’s Supreme Court, which has only ever had white justices in its 146-year existence.

Mahmud Jamal, who has been a judge on Ontario‘s court of appeal since 2019, trained as a lawyer and appeared before the Supreme Court in 35 appeals addressing a range of civil, constitutional, criminal and regulatory issues.

“He’ll be a valuable asset to the Supreme Court – and that’s why, today, I’m announcing his historic nomination to our country’s highest court,” Trudeau said on Twitter.

Trudeau has frequently said there is a need to address systemic racism in Canada.

Jamal, born in Nairobi in 1967, emigrated with his family to Britain in 1969 where he said he was “taunted and harassed because of my name, religion, or the color of my skin.”

In 1981 the family moved to Canada, where his “experiences exposed me to some of the challenges and aspirations of immigrants, religious minorities, and racialized persons,” he said in a document submitted to support his candidacy.

Canada is a multicultural country, with more than 22% of the population comprised of minorities and another 5% aboriginal, according to the latest census.

“We know people are facing systemic discrimination, unconscious bias and anti-black racism every single day,” Trudeau said last year.

Jamal will replace Justice Rosalie Abella, who is due to retire from the nine-person court on July 1.

 

(Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

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Donors pledge $1.5 billion for Venezuelan migrants, humanitarian crisis

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More than 30 countries and two development banks on Thursday pledged more than $1.5 billion in grants and loans to aid Venezuelan migrants fleeing a humanitarian crisis, as well as their host countries and vulnerable people still in the country.

The $954 million in grants announced at a donors’ conference hosted by Canada – which included pledges of $407 million from the United States and C$115 million Canadian dollars ($93.12 million) from Canada – exceeded the $653 million announced at a similar event last year.

But that fell short of the needs of countries hosting the more than 5.6 million Venezuelans who have left their country since 2015, as the once-prosperous nation’s economy collapsed into a years-long hyperinflationary recession under socialist President Nicolas Maduro.

Most have resettled in developing countries in Latin America and the Caribbean who have themselves seen their budgets stretched thin due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Does this cover all needs? Of course not,” Filippo Grandi, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, told reporters. “We will have to continue to encourage donors to support the response.”

At the conference, Ecuadorean President Guillermo Lasso announced that the country – which hosts some 430,000 Venezuelans – would begin a new process to regularize migrants’ status. That came after Colombia in February gave 10-year protected status to the 1.8 million Venezuelans it hosts.

Karina Gould, Canada‘s minister for international development, said the amount pledged showed donors were eager to support such efforts.

“There is that recognition on behalf of the global community that there needs to be support to ensure that that generosity can continue, and can actually deepen, in host countries,” Gould said.

In addition, the World Bank and Inter-American Developmemt Bank pledged $600 million in loans to address the crisis, Gould said.

($1 = 1.2349 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Luc Cohen, Michelle Nichols and David Ljunggren; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Aurora Ellis)

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Ecuador to start new ‘normalization process’ for Venezuelan migrants

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Ecuador will implement a new “normalization process” for the 430,000 Venezuelan migrants living in the South American country, President Guillermo Lasso said on Thursday, without providing further details of the plan.

Lasso’s announcement, at a conference hosted by Canada intended to raise money to support the more than 5.6 million Venezuelans who have fled an economic crisis in the South American country, came after Colombia in February gave 10-year protected status to the nearly 2 million Venezuelans it hosts.

“I am pleased to announce the beginning of a new regularization process, which in order to be an effective, lasting and permanent policy should be complemented by strategies for economic integration and labor market access,” Lasso said.

Ecuador in late 2019 launched a regularization process for Venezuelans who arrived before July of that year. That included two-year humanitarian visas meant to facilitate access to social services.

Lasso said Ecuador needed outside funding to continue caring for Venezuelan migrants, estimating that more than 100,000 additional migrants were expected to arrive before the end of the year.

“I call on our partners in the international community to be co-responsible and have solidarity with Venezuelan migrants and refugees, and with the countries that receive them,” he said.

 

(Reporting by Luc Cohen; editing by Barbara Lewis)

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