DG Azevêdo welcomed the ministers’ joint declaration, in which they committed to “actively working to ensure the continued flow of vital medical supplies and equipment, critical agricultural products, and other essential goods and services across borders, for supporting the health of our citizens”. They also pledged to “take immediate necessary measures to facilitate trade” in such goods, consistent with national requirements.
Echoing language from G20 leaders after a meeting on the pandemic last week, the trade ministers agreed 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 statement highlighted their “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 text of the declaration can be found here.
In his remarks to the meeting, the Director-General had urged the ministers to leverage trade in their pandemic response, emphasizing that trade could lower the cost of efforts to fight COVID-19, while fostering a stronger economic recovery.
“We can and must scale up the production of things like protective equipment, ventilators, testing kits — and ultimately treatments and vaccines,” he said. “But we want manufacturers to be focused on maximizing output, not figuring out how to source domestically, or whether imported materials or components will ever arrive.”
He also stressed the importance of open trade flows for countries to be able to import essential medical equipment, food and energy.
In addition, DG Azevêdo reiterated his call for governments to share information about any trade-related measures — whether facilitating or restrictive — they introduce as part of their COVID-19 response. “The WTO has set up a transparency process for COVID-19 related trade measures,” he told ministers. “Please lead the way, by promptly sharing information about your policies.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented in our lifetimes,” he said. “It demands unprecedented solidarity and cooperation from governments and international organizations. The WTO stands ready to do its part.”
The extraordinary G20 trade ministers meeting was organized by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which currently holds the group’s rotating presidency.
More on the WTO’s response to the COVID-19 crisis is available here.