WTO issues report on measures to expedite access to COVID-19 critical goods, services

The WTO Secretariat has published a new information note on how WTO members have used trade measures to expedite access to critical medical goods and services as part of their responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The note states that trade has played a role in improving access to COVID-19 critical medical goods and services since the start of the pandemic. The shortages of medical personal protective equipment encountered around the world in the early phase of the pandemic have eased, as production and trade have expanded to meet the unparalleled demand spike. Initial data for 41 countries indicates trade in medical goods grew by 38.7 per cent in the first half of 2020, the Secretariat said, although sourcing of certain products remains a challenge for some developing countries.

In addition, the note describes a wide range of trade-related measures members have employed, from temporary reductions or deferrals of duties, taxes and charges on COVID-19 critical medical supplies to simplified customs procedures and border clearance. It looks at intellectual property-related measures members have used to facilitate innovation in, and access to, COVID-19 related technologies, such as the use of compulsory or government-use licences, efforts to foster access to relevant patent databases, and steps to make it easier to exchange clinical trial data. It also examines how WTO members have acted to facilitate telemedicine and the international movement of health workers.

The large majority of measures referred to in the note are a matter of public record through formal notifications to the WTO, the WTO’s trade monitoring report, or its ongoing COVID-19 related monitoring exercise.

The report can be found here.

Key points

  • The shortages of medical personal protective equipment (PPE) encountered around the world in the early phase of the pandemic have eased, as production and trade have expanded to meet the unparalleled demand spike.
  • Initial data for 41 countries suggests trade in medical goods grew by 38.7 per cent in the first half of 2020. Certain products remain subject to periodic shortages, with sourcing a particular challenge for some developing countries.
  • Political commitments have been made to keep markets open. The statements made by G20 leaders and trade ministers have been buttressed by some 17 other statements and proposals issued by other WTO members and groups of members.
  • Members are sharing information with the WTO about their COVID-19 trade measures as notifications and for inclusion in WTO trade monitoring reports. Transparency is essential to keep markets open, and is an area in which some members are calling for further action.
  • Duties, taxes and charges on COVID-19 critical medical goods and other essential supplies have been temporarily removed or deferred by 40 WTO members, including 12 G20 members. These actions help reduce the cost of the goods needed to fight the pandemic, both for the health sector and for the general public. Measures to reduce or eliminate import tariffs made up around two-thirds of the import trade-facilitating measures reported to the WTO.
  • Customs procedures and border clearance for COVID-19 critical medical goods have been expedited by cutting back red tape. Actions taken by members include establishing priority clearance channels, lessening and simplifying documentary requirements and electronic processing, and improving border agency cooperation. Expedited transit procedures have also helped landlocked countries improve their access to essential supplies.
  • Steps have been taken to enhance regulatory approval and cooperation on standards for traded goods, including measures to expedite regulatory assessments, recognizing the results of foreign regulators and allowing remote or electronic conformity assessment procedures.
  • Measures related to intellectual property (IP) rights are being used to facilitate innovation in and access to COVID‑19 related technologies. Actions include sharing IP to develop treatments and allow the wider use of existing technologies, providing free access to relevant patent databases and COVID-19 specific search facilities, making available reports on COVID‑19 related patents, and facilitating the exchange of clinical trial data. By end July 2020, WTO trade monitoring activities had recorded some 47 COVID-19 related measures regarding trade-related IP rights taken by 24 members.
  • Access to COVID-19 critical medical services has been improved. The international movement of health workers has been facilitated, together with new (temporary) rules on telemedicine.
  • Expedited procurement procedures, including limited tendering and expedited payments for contractors, are among the government procurement actions notified by some members.

Source


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