Trade Therapy: Deepening cooperation to strengthen pandemic defenses

Open trade can increase access to medical services and goods, improve quality and variety of goods and services, and reduce costs. However, excessive concentration of production, restrictive trade policies, supply chain disruptions and regulatory divergence can jeopardize the ability of public health systems to respond to pandemics and other health crises. This publication provides new data on trade in medical goods and services, surveys the evolving policy landscape and proposes an action plan to improve trade policies and deepen international cooperation to deal with future pandemics.

As the COVID-19 pandemic lingers, the focus of policy action is on the response, which includes actions aimed at removing bottlenecks and providing government support to promote equitable access to vaccines. As the emergency subsides, the focus should shift to prevention and preparedness. Negotiating tariff reductions on medical goods and greater market access in services should take priority.

Also important are measures to improve the efficiency of markets, which include harmonizing regulation and creating international standards for essential medical goods and production processes. Agreement on a crisis rulebook to be deployed during an emergency would provide a more solid policy foundation to address future challenges.

Co-published in 2022 by the World Bank and the WTO.

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