On 8 November 2021, the World Trade Organization (WTO) announced that it had launched an improved Quantitative Restrictions (QR) Database, an online platform to search and retrieve information on trade restrictions and prohibitions notified by WTO members. The QR Database provides information on export prohibitions and restrictions introduced by members in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, with detailed information on the affected products, the intended duration of the measures, and their WTO justification.
The improved database makes it easier for the user to access information contained in the QR notifications and also gives the possibility of generating charts directly through the platform.
In line with a 2012 Decision on notification procedures for quantitative restrictions, members inform the WTO of their trade prohibitions and restrictions on a biennial basis. Although QRs are generally prohibited under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) Article XI:1, they may be allowed as exceptions in a limited number of circumstances. These include measures which are necessary to protect human, plant and animal health or to protect public morals, and measures relating to the conservation of exhaustible natural resources.
The QR notifications seek to provide transparency on these prohibitions and other restrictions, as well as their legal justification under WTO rules. Paragraph 4 of the QR Decision mandates the WTO Secretariat to maintain a public website based on these notifications. The QR Database can be accessed here.
As of November 2021, 84 WTO members have submitted 220 QR notifications to the WTO. These encompass 1,724 notified measures that are currently in force, with 62% applying to imports and 38% to exports. Although the name “quantitative restrictions” may suggest that these measures have a “quantitative” or “numerical” component, in fact only seven measures impose an absolute limit on the volume of a product that can be traded. These measures mainly take the form of non-automatic licences (43%), prohibitions or bans (33%), and prohibitions except under defined conditions (21%).
In terms of the justifications provided by members, most of the notified QRs are considered to be measures necessary to protect human, animal and plant life or health, or relating to the conservation of exhaustible natural resources. The most cited WTO provision to justify such measures has been Article XX:b of the GATT 1994. Members have also referred, to a lesser extent, to the carve-out provisions in Article XI:2 and the security exceptions in Article XXI of the GATT 1994.
Many members have also stated that these measures have been implemented in line with international conventions, such as the Convention on international trade in endangered species of wild fauna and flora (CITES), the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, and the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions' three international environmental agreements.
Regarding the response to Covid-19, pandemic-related export prohibitions and restrictions account for 60 measures that have been notified by 34 members under the QR Decision as of 4 October 2021. This information, which has recently been analysed in a Secretariat report and discussed by the Committee on Market Access, has contributed to enhancing transparency in this area.
The Quantitative Restrictions Database is accessible at: