Geneva and capital-based delegates offered a diverse range of perspectives on the definition and updating of what they consider essential or critical goods to fight the pandemic. Canada, China, Ecuador, the European Union, Singapore and the United Kingdom took the floor to report on the way they established the definition of “essential goods”. They also addressed the issues faced when addressing tariff classification of these products within the Harmonized System (HS) and for national tariff lines in order to better target trade policy.

Members followed the advice of other international organizations — particularly the World Customs Organization (WCO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) — in the establishment of their list of essential goods. Most of them included products such as personal protective equipment (PPE),  disinfectants, medical devices and equipment. These lists were dynamically updated according to the needs of combating the pandemic.

While many of the products were already duty-free, certain imports of essential goods were still subject to customs duties and benefited from various forms of relief mechanisms during the COVID-19 crisis, members said. Internal coordination by many government agencies and the involvement of traders and other stakeholders also played a key role in identifying critical goods and providing additional classification guidance.

The chair of the Committee, Mr Chakarin Komolsiri, noted the importance of hearing how members see international cooperation — within the WTO but also with other organizations — as a tool for governments to prepare for future crises.

The experience-sharing session was the result of consultations held on 9 February 2022, where members supported exploring further technical work by the Committee, proposed topics of interest and provided suggestions on how to organize the discussions.

Based on those consultations, a series of topics emerged as possible areas in which members could further engage in this experience-sharing exercise. Members proposed to look at how monitoring and measuring trade in essential goods could help improve the response to future pandemics.

Members expressed interest in sharing their practices aimed at easing trade under the purview of the Committee — including in relation to suspension, reduction or elimination of tariffs. They also agreed to invite experts from other organizations and the private sector to enhance the discussion. The need to further strengthen the link between WTO committees on this issue was also mentioned. 

More information about market access for goods and the work of the Committee on Market Access is available here.




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