French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, right, and World Trade Organisation (WTO) Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, left, elbow-bump after a joint news conference at WTO headquarters in Geneva, April 1, 2021.
French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, right, and World Trade Organisation (WTO) Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, left, elbow-bump after a joint news conference at WTO headquarters in Geneva, April 1, 2021.

The World Trade Organization said Thursday it expects international trade to rebound from the pandemic this year and grow by as much as 8% after falling more than 5% in 2020.

At her first trade forecast news conference since assuming office one month ago, WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told reporters that last year’s decline was not as large as expected.  

Following a sharp decline in the first half of the year, she said, trade recovered more quickly than expected in the second half, and that rebound has continued, prompting the optimistic forecast for 2021.  

But Okonjo-Iweala also said she expects trade to slow in 2022, and that WTO forecasts remain below the original pre-pandemic trends.

The WTO chief referenced last week’s blockage of the Suez Canal, in which the massive container ship Ever Given was stuck in the crucial trade route for almost a week. She said estimates were that the blockage affected nearly $10 billion in trade each day.

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But she said the fact that the Ever Given was able to cause so much disruption is a sign that global merchandise trade is relatively robust — and that global supply chains have held up through the pandemic.

Okonjo-Iweala said the pandemic continues to pose the greatest threat to the outlook for trade, and new waves of infection could further undermine any hoped-for recovery. She said vaccines have given the world a realistic chance of stopping the virus and re-starting the world economy.

To that end, she said the fact that that “70% of vaccines today have been administered only by 10 countries is really not acceptable,” and called for developed nations to manufacture more vaccines for broader distribution.

“A rapid, global and equitable vaccine roll-out is the best stimulus plan we have for the strong and sustained economic recovery that we all need,” she said.

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