DG Azevêdo hailed the group’s resolve to “ensure the flow of vital medical supplies, critical agricultural products, and other goods and services across borders,” part of a broader commitment to “minimize disruptions to trade and global supply chains”.
In a joint statement, G20 leaders pledged to do “whatever it takes and to use all available policy tools to minimize the economic and social damage from the pandemic,” promising to coordinate fiscal action to restore global growth. The leaders agreed to “facilitate international trade and coordinate responses in ways that avoid unnecessary interference with international traffic and trade”. Emergency trade measures aimed at protecting health should be “targeted, proportionate, transparent, and temporary,” they said.
Ahead of the summit, the Director-General had sent a letter to the current chair of the G20, Saudi Arabia, warning that while the COVID-19 pandemic is “first and foremost a health crisis, threatening millions of lives,” it is also a social and economic crisis that is endangering the livelihoods of millions more. Noting that WTO economists foresaw “a sharp fall in trade”, he underlined that cooperation, including on trade, would help ensure that the economic downturn caused by the pandemic “is short, and followed by a swift, sustained, and inclusive recovery”.
The Director-General emphasized that trade would be a vital channel for getting essential products to where they are most needed. He noted that cross-border cooperation on research, development, production, and trade would lower costs for countries now working to ramp up health system capacity, and develop testing kits, treatments and vaccines at scale.
“Few countries — if any — can produce all the medical supplies, food, and energy they need,” DG Azevêdo said. “Closing borders would be particularly harmful to people in the many developing countries that rely on imports for sophisticated medical equipment.”
He also encouraged G20 members to set an example by promptly sharing information about any COVID-19 related trade policies with the WTO Secretariat.
DG Azevêdo appealed for solidarity and cooperation among G20 governments and international organizations to deliver an effective pandemic response and a strong global recovery. “History will not remember us kindly if we fail to work together,” he wrote.
The G20 Extraordinary Virtual Leaders’ Summit on COVID-19 was organized by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which currently holds the group’s rotating presidency. In addition to the WTO Director-General, the heads of international organizations including the United Nations, the World Bank Group, the World Health Organization, the International Monetary Fund, the International Labour Organization and the OECD participated in the meeting.
More on the WTO’s response to the COVID-19 crisis is available here.