“Members understand the importance of keeping markets open and letting trade flow. At the same time, we should clearly not underestimate the risks generated by the pandemic, which is still very much with us, along with the more recent disruptions associated with the war in Ukraine and new diseases like monkey pox that are showing up and which we hope don't also morph into pandemics. The global food security situation is a case in point, and we are keeping a watchful eye on this. High prices for food and fertilizer have been met with export restrictions, even if we know from experience that such measures can make price spikes much worse,” said DG Okonjo-Iweala.
“With respect to the pandemic, the report shows that trade has been central to combatting COVID-19, and that the multilateral trading system has played an instrumental role in encouraging restraint in the use of trade restrictions in response to pandemic-related shocks,” added the DG. “The number of new COVID-19-related measures on goods as well as in services has decreased significantly during the review period and this is clearly positive. But, and I think we all know this far too well, we are not in the clear yet — and where members need to show restraint, as reaffirmed at MC12, the Secretariat needs to continue to monitor.”
The Director-General's full speech to launch the report is available here.
During the review period covered by the report, the estimated trade coverage of the regular (non-COVID-19-related) import-facilitating measures introduced by WTO members (USD 603.2 billion) far exceeded the trade coverage of import-restrictive measures (USD 23.5 billion).
A total of 230 new trade-facilitating and 109 trade-restrictive measures were recorded. These include 32 export restrictions (estimated at USD 69.6 billion) and 18 import-facilitating measures (USD 38.3 billion) put in place in response to the war in Ukraine.
The Secretariat's ongoing monitoring shows that since the start of the war in late February, 30 members and observers have introduced 55 measures prohibiting or restricting exports of food, feed, fuels and fertilizers. Of these, 15 measures have since been phased out, but 25 members and observers still have 40 measures in place.
The report highlights that the global economic outlook has deteriorated since February as a result of the war in Ukraine, prompting the WTO to downgrade its forecasts for world trade over the next two years. The WTO, in its latest forecast of 12 April 2022, expects merchandise trade volume growth of 3.0% in 2022, down from 4.7% in the previous forecast from last October.
The report notes that the Omicron wave of COVID-19 saw cases and deaths rise sharply in the first quarter of 2022, adding to the human toll of the pandemic. More recently, stringent lockdowns in China aimed at containing the spread of the disease have disrupted production and trade at a time when supply pressures appeared to be easing. Lockdowns could lead to renewed shortages of intermediate and final goods, aggravating supply chain problems and adding to inflationary pressures.
During the review period, 37 COVID-19-related measures on goods were communicated by WTO members, primarily amendments of existing measures originally implemented in the early stages of the pandemic or termination of others.
Similarly, the flow of new COVID-19-related support measures by WTO members to mitigate the social and economic impacts of the pandemic has significantly decreased since the second half of 2021.
Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, 436 trade and trade-related measures regarding goods have been implemented by WTO members and observers. Of these, 288 (66%) were of a trade-facilitating nature and 148 (34%) were trade-restrictive. Export restrictions account for 82% of all COVID-19 trade-restrictive measures.
According to information identified by the Secretariat or received from delegations and subsequently verified, around 73% of COVID-19 export restrictions have been phased out. The estimated trade coverage of the COVID-19 trade-facilitating measures still in place (USD 149.7 billion) is larger than that of trade restrictions (USD 99.8 billion).
In the services sector, the Secretariat has recorded 155 COVID-19-related measures introduced by members and observers since the outbreak of the pandemic. Only two new measures were reported since mid-October 2021 and five were reported as terminated. This confirms that the number of new COVID-19 measures related to trade in services has declined drastically since last year.
Regarding the war in Ukraine, the Secretariat identified 71 specific trade and trade-related sanctions imposed by 43 WTO members and one observer on the Russian Federation in the area of trade in goods.
Furthermore, 75 services trade and trade-related sanctions imposed on the Russian Federation by 39 WTO members were also identified. In the area of intellectual property, several WTO members implemented measures and sanctions that might indirectly affect the maintenance and licensing of intellectual property rights (IPRs).
Overall, the stockpile of import restrictions in force has grown steadily since 2009 — both in value terms and as a percentage of world imports. By mid-May 2022, some 8.9% of global imports continued to be affected by import restrictions implemented since 2009 and which are still in force.
After reaching its highest peak in 2020, the average number of trade remedy initiations was the lowest since 2012. Trade remedy actions remain an important trade policy tool for WTO members, accounting for 30% of all non-COVID-19-related trade measures on goods recorded in this report.
Despite the review period ending on 15 May 2022, the report also makes brief reference to the successful conclusion of the MC12 in June, where ministers secured a series of unprecedented multilaterally negotiated outcomes. This included an agreement on curbing harmful fisheries subsidies, the WTO response to emergencies, including a waiver of certain requirements concerning compulsory licensing for COVID-19 vaccines, food security, WTO reform and the extension of the moratorium on e-commerce customs duties.