In a 24 March message asking all members to submit information to the WTO Secretariat about recent trade and trade-related measures, DG Azevêdo called specific attention to the policies members had introduced in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
“The current COVID-19 pandemic represents an almost unprecedented health crisis, and members are understandably responding by introducing legislation and policies to seek to combat this health emergency,” he wrote. “These include measures that are trade-related, such as export measures and economic support programmes.”
The DG asked members to provide the Secretariat with information about their COVID-19 policies with trade implications, emphasising that whatever they submit would be used purely for transparency purposes.
The request was part of a longstanding transparency exercise in which the WTO Secretariat compiles regular reports on trade-facilitating and restricting measures introduced by members of the Group of 20 leading economies as well as by the WTO membership as a whole. The next trade monitoring report will look at measures taken between mid-October 2019 and mid-May 2020.
The monitoring exercise has previously shone a spotlight on trade measures taken in the context of health emergencies, notably the H1N1 flu outbreak in 2009-10.
In comments on the COVID-19 outbreak, DG Azevêdo has stressed the importance of transparency with regard to trade-related measures, arguing that it would be particularly useful for the many countries that rely on imports for medical supplies.
More broadly, the Director-General has set up a task force of experts from across the Secretariat to monitor the impact of COVID-19 on trade flows and the overall global economy. Some of the task force's findings will inform the WTO's annual trade projections which will be released next month.