While import-restrictive measures introduced by WTO members have continued to affect a growing share of global trade, World Trade Organization (WTO) Director-General Roberto Azevedo’s latest mid-year report on trade-related developments presented to members last week also indicates a shift towards import-facilitating measures, including products related to the Covid-19 crisis.
Between mid-October 2019 and mid-May 2020, WTO members implemented 363 new trade and trade-related measures, 198 of them trade-facilitating and 165 trade-restrictive. Most of them, 256 (about 71%) were linked to the pandemic.
Export bans accounted for all the pandemic-related export restrictions - and appeared to have come in two clearly identifiable waves. In the early stages of the pandemic, several of the measures restricted the free flow of trade but as of mid-May 2020, 57% of all measures were of a trade-facilitating nature. In early May, some members began to phase out export constraints, targeting products such as surgical masks, gloves, medicine and disinfectant. There is further evidence that a roll-back of other trade and trade-related measures taken in the early stages of the pandemic is also taking place, according to the report. For instance, around 28% of the Covid-19-specific trade-restrictive measures implemented by WTO members and observers had been repealed by mid-May.
Prepared against the backdrop of Covid-19, the WTO points out that the report does not yet reflect the full impact of the pandemic on trade. According to WTO data published on 22 June, estimates for the second quarter of 2020 indicate a year-on-year drop in world trade of around 18%.