The head of the World Trade Organisation says Australia should aim to reduce its reliance on coal exports and instead focus on green hydrogen.
- Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala says it would be good if Australia “could move on its green hydrogen path”
- She hopes Australia and China will “begin a dialogue” about China’s embargo on Australian goods
- She says she believes in challenging stereotypes, “especially when it’s systemic”
WTO director-general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told 7.30 green hydrogen was “rightly where attention should go”.
“We know that coal is one of those fossil fuels that leads to very high carbon emissions. So I think it would be good if Australia could move on its green hydrogen path that it is developing,” Ms Okonjo-Iweala said.
“That’s going to be so important as an industry, which will create new jobs. It will be so important to help in the world.
“I think that’s where rightly attention should go.”
She said it was likely Australia would have to grapple with countries imposing export restrictions on carbon-emitting products, and that the WTO allows members to adopt trade-related measures aimed at protecting the environment.
“There are countries that are saying that they will put a tax or a price on carbon emitting products. I’m sure that as time goes on, as countries strive to achieve the path to net zero emissions by 2050, you will see more of that,” she said.
“That time is already here, I think.”
Ms Okonjo-Iweala said it was “hugely important” a fund to help developing countries deal with damage caused by climate change had been agreed upon at the UN Climate Change Conference on the weekend.
“It’s not yet clear how that fund will be filled, how the funds will come,” she said.
“But getting approval for a loss and damage fund is hugely important. There are countries that can be wiped out with just one cyclone, one hurricane, and helping them to rebuild will be crucially important.”
Trade with China
Ms Okonjo-Iweala said she hoped China and Australia will “begin a dialogue” about China’s embargo on Australian goods.
She said last week’s meeting between Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and China’s President Xi Jinping was “constructive” and “a good opening”.
“We prefer that our members are able to talk to each other and resolve problems,” she said.
She said the return of protectionism among some countries during the pandemic was a concern to the WTO.
“At the WTO we don’t like protectionism.
“We’ve looked at the vulnerability of supply chains that we saw as a result of the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. It certainly became clear that manufacturing of certain products is too concentrated.
“You have 10 countries that export 80 per cent of the world’s vaccines, for example. So we know that to manage risks, there needs to be some diversification.
“We think the best strategy is to look at global diversification of manufacturing.”
She said diversifying globally can be used as “an instrument to bring countries that were at the margin, and people who are at the margins of trade, in to be more inclusive.”
“We call it re-globalisation at the WTO.”
Ms Okonjo-Iweala is the first African head of the WTO, and the first woman in the role.
“I always say that the best head is the one that can run the organisation the best, and hopefully I’m that,” she said.
Asked how she decides when to confront stereotypes, and when to ignore them, she said: “I think when it is clear a stereotype is systemic, you have to challenge it.
“Because if you don’t, that’s a big missed opportunity.
“If it is something that happens just of the moment and you can challenge it, always challenge a stereotype … but especially when it’s systemic.
“You’ve got to say, ‘Look, this is not right. That’s not the way things work.’
“And men play a big role. Men need to give women a chance, need to give women a voice, and sometimes men need to get out of the way so that women can have a chance.”
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