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G20 trade ministers endorse steps to curb COVID-19 impacts

G20 trade and investment officials convened virtually for a second time this week, endorsing a set of short- and long-term “collective actions” countries could take to combat economic harm caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Among their short-term recommendations are a slew of steps to enhance trade regulation, facilitation and transparency and to improve the operation of logistics networks, according to a joint statement issued after the meeting. The long-term actions included initiatives to support the multilateral trading system, “building resilience in global supply chains” and bolstering international investment activity.

Saudi Minister of Commerce Majid Al Qasabi noted that the recommendations were produced by the G20 Trade and Investment Working Group, which he said had been working “tirelessly” since its last meeting in March. “The actions on our agenda today are the fruit of an intensive consultative process among all TIWG officials,” he said in an opening statement on Thursday.

On trade regulation, the trade officials said countries should abstain from introducing export restrictions on agricultural products, including those “purchased for non-commercial humanitarian purposes,” and avoid “unnecessary food-stockpiling, without prejudice to domestic food security, consistent with national requirements.”

Countries also should consider “exempting humanitarian aid” for pandemic relief from any export controls on essential medical goods and personal protective equipment, again consistent with national requirements.

The trade facilitation recommendations include a suggestion to expedite the implementation of the World Trade Organization Trade Facilitation Agreement, which entered into force in 2017. Specifically, the G20 trade officials pointed to the provisions of that agreement involving pre-arrival processing, “separation of release from final determination of customs duties” and expedited shipment.

Countries should aim to reduce sanitary and technical barriers to trade by “encouraging greater use of relevant existing international standards and ensuring access of information on relevant standards is not a barrier to enabling production of PPE and medical supplies,” the statement says.

Additionally, the trade officials said G20 digital ministers had a key role to play in facilitating the flow of essential goods and services, calling on them to “promote the application of online services and e-commerce.”

G20 transport ministers should encourage trade by enhancing “air, land and marine connectivity” and “facilitate the increase of air cargo capacity,” the statement adds.

Finally, support for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises should be prioritized in the short term and international organizations should prepare in-depth reports “on the disruption of global value chains caused by the pandemic on MSMEs,” the trade ministers said.

Longer-term recommendations are focused on improving the functioning of the WTO and reaffirming the “importance of interface between trade and digital economy.”

Countries should continue the discussion on “how the G20 can support work at the WTO” and explore “COVID-19 related WTO initiatives to promote open and more resilient supply chains, and expand production capacity and trade in the areas of pharmaceutical, medical and other health-related products,” they wrote.

Investment in “new capacity for producing” key medical supplies and PPE should also be encouraged, the statement adds.

In introductory remarks at the meeting, European Union Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan lauded progress made “on the public health front” but said the need for coordinated action between countries remained stronger than ever.

“On this basis, tariff relief for COVID-19 related products must form an obvious part of our response, and it makes a lot of sense to explore WTO initiatives to facilitate trade, including elimination of tariffs, in medical, pharmaceutical and other health-related products,” he said.

“We very much welcome the standstill commitment on food export restrictions; the commitment to implementation of the WTO’s trade facilitation agreement; the commitment to simplify customs procedures, and to the use of international standards; the commitment to enhance transparency; the commitment to promote WTO reform; and the commitment to explore WTO initiatives on open and resilient value chains,” Hogan added.

 

Source: Inside Trade

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