GENEVA — The head for the World Trade Organization said that it would be a bumpy and difficult road. Sunday’s opening of its fourth-highest-level meeting in four years saw issues such as pandemic preparedness and food insecurity, set against the backdrop Russia’s war in Ukraine, and overfishing in the world’s oceans.

Director-General Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, a member of WTO’s 164 members countries, hopes that the meeting with more than 120 ministers will result in progress towards reducing inequality and ensuring fair trade.

Okonjo Iweala recognized the need for reform in Geneva-based trade organization.

“The road will be bumpy, and rocky. Okonjo-Iweala said that there may be some landmines along the way, just before the opening ceremony of the four-day meeting. “We will have to navigate these landmines and find a way to land one or two deliverables.”

WTO chief said that 1 billion people have been lifted out of poverty by trade, but poorer nations and people living in poorer countries are often left behind.

She cited the humanitarian crisis caused by Russia’s invasion in Ukraine. Blockaded ports have prevented exports of 22 million to 25 millions tons of grain from a crucial European breadbasket.

The meeting will discuss whether or not to lift or ease export restrictions to food in order to relieve pressures on countries that are facing shortages of wheat, fertilizer, and other products due to the war. They will also decide whether or not to support the U.N. World Food Program, which provides supplies for poor countries all over the globe.

Okonjo-Iweala believes that the member countries, which make decisions through consensus, can also reach an agreement on whether to temporarily suspend WTO’s protections for intellectual property on COVID-19 vaccins.

The move, according to supporters, would improve access to vaccines in developing countries without affecting protections or incentives for innovators. This topic has been the subject of heated negotiations for months.

The World Trade Organization was established in 1995 to replace the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. It has been slowly unraveling, not least because of U.S. objections that have severely hampered its dispute-resolution process. These objections are centered on the structure of the system.

In years past, the WTO has not produced major trade agreements. Nearly a decade ago, the last major trade agreement was reached. It was an agreement to reduce red tape when goods were cleared borders. This was seen as a boost for lower-income countries.


Follow AP’s coverage of the Ukraine war at