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G20 trade leaders commit to WTO-consistent measures in response to COVID-19

Trade ministers from G20 countries on Monday said any “emergency measures” to address the coronavirus pandemic must be temporary, but can be consistent with World Trade Organization rules.

In a March 30 joint statement following a virtual meeting, trade officials pledged to “take immediate necessary measures to facilitate trade” in medical supplies and equipment as well as critical agriculture products.

The trade officials last week were told to assess the impact of COVID-19 on trade, as outlined in a joint statement issued by G20 leaders after a teleconference.

“We will support the availability and accessibility of essential medical supplies and pharmaceuticals at affordable prices, on an equitable basis, where they are most needed, and as quickly as possible, including by encouraging additional production through incentives and targeted investment, according to national circumstance,” the March 30 statement says. “We will guard against profiteering and unjustified price increases.”

“We agree that emergency measures designed to tackle COVID-19, if deemed necessary, must be targeted, proportionate, transparent, and temporary, and that they do not create unnecessary barriers to trade or disruption to global supply chains, and are consistent with WTO rules,” the trade ministers added.

Many governments have implemented some type of export restriction on medical supplies and equipment in response to the pandemic.

“We emphasize the importance of transparency in the current environment and our commitment to notify the WTO of any trade related measures taken, all of which will enable global supply chains to continue to function in this crisis, while expediting the recovery that will follow,” the statement says.

Representatives from the World Health Organization, the WTO and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development reportedly participated in Monday’s discussion. The G20 trade ministers called on international organizations to “provide an in-depth analysis of the impact of COVID-19 on world trade, investment and global value chains.”

Additionally, the ministers tasked the G20 Trade and Investment Working Group, which was established in 2016, to address related issues and identify “additional proposed actions that could help alleviate the wide-range impact of COVID-19, as well as longer-term actions that should be taken to support the multilateral trading system and expedite economic recovery.”

The trade ministers also committed to ensuring that any collective response is “supportive of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, and recognize[s] the importance of strengthening international investment.” The group also committed to safeguarding “smooth and continued operation of the logistics networks that serve as the backbone of global supply chains.”

“We will explore ways for logistics networks via air, sea and land freight to remain open, as well as ways to facilitate essential movement of health personnel and businesspeople across borders, without undermining the efforts to prevent the spread of the virus,” they said in the statement.

Wendy Cutler, vice president of the Asia Society Policy Institute and a former acting deputy U.S. Trade Representative, said while the joint statement “has lots of the words we want to hear,” it also includes “lots of outs from adhering to what they call for” and no plans for follow-up calls “handing the matters over to officials,” according to a March 30 tweet. It also allows “emergency measures to be taken in accordance with stated principles.”

Some analysts have said they hoped G20 countries would commit to avoid new trade restrictions, as they did during the 2008 financial crisis, and to temporarily suspend all tariffs on key medical goods.

 

Source: Inside Trade

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