At the session with external stakeholders, speakers from the private sector, academia and other international organisations provided their views on how international trade in goods has been impacted by the pandemic and which lessons should be learned to be better prepared for future emergencies.

In a panel moderated by Simon J. Evenett, Professor at the University of St. Gallen, members heard the views of representatives of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), DHL and Western Union, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and Medtronic, a medical technology company. Participants heard real-life examples of the effects the pandemic had on the financial and delivery performance of companies and their ability to sustain their operations during such an unprecedented shock.

Presentations highlighted the impact public policy changes had on the short-term response to the pandemic and to what extent COVID-19 affected supply chains as well as localization strategies and investment decisions of the private sector. Panelists also reflected on how different types of policy regimes induced better or worse supply side responses, emphasizing the importance of having a certain degree of alignment in goods classification across members and of enhancing transparency related to public policy interventions.

The information shared was considered useful for policy makers seeking to assess how their trade policy choices impacted cross-border trade during this pandemic. Contributions to the session will help them reflect on what worked well and be better prepared for crises the international community may face in the future.

Delegations shared the view that no member could have responded to the impact of COVID-19 on their own, and that trade policy plays a very important role because it is through international trade that all members get access to products that are essential during a crisis.

Members concurred that the session with external stakeholders confirmed many of the lessons identified by them in previous experience-sharing sessions — the value of enhanced transparency in supply chains and on measures adopted by members, the importance of international collaboration and cooperation, particularly at times of crises, and the usefulness of public-private dialogue in decision-making, among other things.

The Chair of the Committee, Kenya Uehara of Japan, stressed that the session with external stakeholders “added unique insights on the different responses to this pandemic and will certainly contribute to the Committee's discussions on the lessons learned.”

Following the session with external stakeholders, the Committee held the fifth experience-sharing session where India made a presentation on the type of measures introduced by its government to ease trade in COVID-19 goods and the political choices underpinning them.

The WTO Secretariat will compile all the lessons learned, as discussed by members in the fourth experience-sharing sessions and by external stakeholders, for members' consideration.

Members generally supported the proposal to continue to engage in sharing of information among them in the context of the Committee and with the participation of other stakeholders to further explore the impact of COVID-19 in trade in goods. Members expressed their readiness to replicate this exercise in other areas of relevance to the work of the Committee and where the Committee could add value.

The experience-sharing session followed on from four previous sessions organized by the Committee on Market Access. The first session on 4 March addressed two main topics: the definition of lists of essential goods to fight the pandemic and challenges related to tariff classification.

In the second session on 26 April, members reported on how they have monitored and measured trade in essential goods to combat the pandemic and discussed ways to improve data collection at a time of crisis.

The third session on 18 July provided members the opportunity to share their practices on measures aimed at easing trade in COVID-19 goods under the purview of the Committee including, for example, in relation to tariff suspensions, reductions or eliminations.

In the fourth session on 16 September members engaged in an open discussion aimed at better understanding their respective experience and practices with respect to export restrictions during the pandemic as well as lessons learned on how to better prepare the international trade community for future crises.

Informal meeting 

At the informal meeting on 23 November, members reiterated their appreciation of the experience-sharing sessions and the stakeholder engagement as well as of the collaboration with the World Customs Organization (WCO) with regards to the classification of COVID-19 related goods.

  • The Chair informed members about the discussions that took place on 22 November at the 61st Session of the WCO Harmonized System (HS) Review Sub-Committee with respect to two proposals for improving the classification of facemasks, ambulances and mobile clinics in the next version of the nomenclature, the HS2027.
  • These proposals were elaborated by the WCO Secretariat on the basis of the suggestions outlined in the communication sent by the CMA Chair on behalf of the Committee in May of this year (G/MA/406).
  • Facemasks, ambulances and mobile clinics were identified as “essential” in members' responses to the pandemic and were also listed in the WCO-WHO HS classification reference for COVID-19 medical supplies (HS2022 edition), which has been extensively used by WTO members during the pandemic.
  • Taking into account the views expressed by the CMA in its communication, the proposed amendments aim at creating new HS subheadings for facemasks and respirators and ambulances and mobile clinics in HS2027.
  • This would allow members to better monitor international trade flows and implement national policies for those products, which would contribute to combating current and future pandemics and other medical emergencies.

The Committee also heard a proposal by Japan to streamline the procedures for the transposition of WTO goods schedules to more recent versions of the Harmonized System.

Next meetings

The formal meetings of the Committee are currently scheduled for 8-9 May 2023 and 17-18 October 2023.  Informal meetings are scheduled for 21 February, 13 June and 21 November 2023.




Chair of the Committee on Market Access, Kenya Uehara of Japan.

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