DEPUTY DIRECTOR-GENERAL YONOV FREDERICK AGAH
DDG Agah noted that the relatively young population in Africa, with more than 60% under the age of 25, has low prevalence of health problems like obesity and type-2 diabetes and has experience in epidemic control from tackling other outbreaks. According to the World Health Organization, this has contributed to Africa coping better with COVID-19 than elsewhere.
He underlined that as COVID-19 case numbers rise again in many places, the short-term risks to economic recovery are obvious. The longer-term risk is of a weak, faltering growth trajectory that leaves output well below the pre-pandemic trend — at great cost to the lives of millions.
DDG Agah stressed the importance of open and predictable markets to foster a strong and inclusive recovery for all countries. Closing off trade would mean unnecessary supply shocks, slower global trade growth, weaker productivity and lower living standards.
He recalled that the outlook for global trade is a bit brighter than a few months ago. WTO economists now estimate that global merchandise trade will shrink by just over 9% this year. This is historically bad, but it is better than the WTO's most optimistic outlook earlier in the year (a decline of 13 to 32%).
He informed participants that the WTO continues to monitor members' pandemic-related trade policies. Trade-facilitating policies have outnumbered trade-restricting measures by nearly two to one. Many trade restrictions introduced earlier in the crisis have been rolled back.
He emphasized the critical importance of international cooperation and coordination to meet today's challenges. Greater cooperation at the WTO can defuse trade tensions and provide greater certainty for international trade. Also, at the regional level, the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) presents a complementary and major opportunity for the continent to derive gains.
DDG Agah assessed that, by increasing regional trade, lowering trade costs and streamlining border procedures, full implementation of the AfCFTA would reshape markets and economies across the continent and boost output in the services, manufacturing and natural resources sectors. It would also help African countries diversify their exports, accelerate growth, and attract foreign direct investment. In the wider economy, trade remains a catalyst for growth and productivity. By the same token, closing markets to trade would amount to an additional — self-inflicted — supply shock.
He reported that, at the WTO, several members have put forward ideas for making supply chains more resilient, which would reduce incentives to restrict trade in future crises. Initiatives with respect to digital trade, investment facilitation and growing concerns over the environment (fisheries) could come to fruition in the coming month.
He concluded that, during the last eight months, the world has experienced unprecedented levels of disruptions in people's daily lives and their economic activities due to COVID-19. The world is not near the end of this crisis. Despite these challenging times, trade has played a key role in addressing local shortages of food, medical supplies and other essentials during the pandemic. Trade will have to play an even greater role in supporting recovery of the global economy going forward.