WTO warns against damaging EU-UK trade war when risks to growth are high

Boris Johnson says London could suspend the deal reached last year, triggering retaliatory tariffs

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World Trade Organisation head Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala warned on Saturday against a slide into a trade war between the UK and the EU.

Speaking on the sidelines of the G7 summit in Cornwall, Mrs Okonjo-Iweala said the world faced a surfeit of challenges without tensions between the European and Brexit Britain spilling into retaliatory measures. 
"I would really, really hope that a UK-EU trade war will not take place," the director-general said. 
"With all the opportunities there are for dialogue, I would be a little surprised if we ended up with a UK-EU trade war.

“It’s too costly for both sides. This is not what the world needs right now.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Saturday that he would suspend the Northern Ireland Protocol of the Brexit agreement with the EU as the two sides fight over how it has been implemented. He said London was ready to invoke the Article 16 clause pausing the deal.

"I think if the protocol continues to be applied in this way, then we will obviously not hesitate to invoke Article 16, as I have said before," he said.

Instead of spending billions on fighting the coronavirus outbreak, Mrs Okonjo-Iweala said the world had spend $26 trillion.

She called for the target in the 2021 vaccine rollout to be raised from 40 per cent of the world population to 60 per cent.

World Trade Organisation (WTO) Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala wears a facemask during the visit of Tunisian Prime Minister to the WTO buildings on June 9, 2021 in Geneva.  / AFP / Fabrice COFFRINI
World Trade Organisation Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was in Cornwall to discuss coronavirus vaccines with G7 leaders. AFP

In the US, the Biden administration has joined a push supported by more than 100 countries to gain a intellectual property waiver for vaccine production.

Alongside investment in vaccine production in more countries, particularly those in Africa, the US wants to remove patent barriers.

Mrs Okonjo-Iweala called for a decision on the proposal by July.

"I hope the G7 leaders will continue along the path of the commitment to really reverse the inequity in access to vaccines," she said. "This is what is going to lift out the recovery and reduce the case rate."

Despite criticism that a pledge to donate vaccines to poor countries was not properly funded, she welcomed the moved to boost the Covax initiative for global vaccine distribution.

The G7 has said its members plan to accelerate the donation of about one billion vaccine doses.

"We've heard about donating vaccines, mostly to Covax, which is a wonderful promise. We hope this will happen fairly quickly because there are some countries that haven't even had one dose delivered," Mrs Okonjo-Iweala said.