Jake Colvin, the president of the National Foreign Trade Council, which represents major multinational companies, said it was “fundamentally encouraging to hear Ambassador Tai reaffirm the continued commitment of the administration to the W.T.O.”
“That’s important and can’t be taken for granted,” he said. “I would agree with her, and the administration would agree with her, that the organization needs to show that it’s capable of addressing challenges and it’s not just trade for trade’s sake.”
Richard E. Baldwin, a professor of international economics at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, posed questions to Ms. Tai after her speech. He was enthusiastic about the departure from the Trump administration’s harsh critiques. “I haven’t heard optimism and W.T.O. said in the same sentence in a long time,” he said.
In remarks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington on Thursday, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the director general of the W.T.O., said that despite a bruising trade war, discussion of decoupling the United States and China, and pandemic-related shortages, global trade was actually at historic highs and the multilateral trading system continued to strongly benefit the global economy.
“To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the death of multilateral trade are greatly exaggerated,” she said. “Warnings of deglobalization are not matched by the evidence, not yet, at least.”
As the organization prepares for its meeting next month, W.T.O. members are divided over whether to grant a waiver that allows countries to bypass the intellectual property protections pharmaceutical companies have on their products to more quickly produce and distribute coronavirus vaccines to lower-income nations.
Backed by the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, the Biden administration has stated its support for the waiver. But it continues to face criticism, both from supporters who say the administration isn’t doing enough to provide vaccine access to poorer countries, and from the business community, which worries about the long-run effects of the erosion of intellectual property rights.