The Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Roberto Azevêdo has said the high levels of trade-restrictive measures remain a source of concern for his organisation.
He was commenting on the WTO’s latest biannual monitoring report on trade measures.
He said : “Historically high levels of trade-restrictive measures remain a source of concern, all the more so at a time when international trade and investment will be critical to rebuild economies, businesses and livelihoods around the world.
“That said, we also see some encouraging indications: not since 2014 have import-facilitating measures implemented during a single monitoring period covered more trade.
“There are signs that trade-restrictive measures adopted in the early stages of the pandemic are starting to be rolled back.
“There is no room for complacency: building on these positive indicators will demand consistent efforts and leadership, starting with the G20. Exceptional circumstances require exceptional responses, and this is the time for G20 governments to work together to facilitate a rapid and inclusive economic recovery.”
New import-restrictive measures unrelated to the pandemic covered an estimated USD 417.5 billion worth of merchandise trade, the third-highest figure recorded since May 2012. Tariff increases, import bans, stricter customs procedures, export duties and other such measures introduced during the review period affected 2.8 per cent of G20 trade. Meanwhile, the stock of import-restrictive measures implemented since 2009 and still in force continues to grow — now affecting an estimated 10.3 per cent of G20 imports (USD 1.6 trillion).
However, the WTO report also finds evidence of steps towards more open trade policies across sectors, including goods, services and intellectual property.
New import-facilitating measures, such as tariff reductions, the elimination of import taxes and the reduction of export duties, covered an estimated USD 735.9 billion worth of trade, excluding policies relating to the pandemic.
This figure is the highest recorded since 2014, and is sharply higher than the USD 92.6 billion trade coverage of import-facilitating measures recorded during the previous monitoring period from May to October 2019.
The initial COVID-19 outbreak saw many governments introduce trade restrictions, over 90 per cent of them export bans on medical products, such as surgical masks, gloves, medicine and disinfectant. Since then, G20 economies have repealed 36 per cent of these restrictions.
They have also lowered barriers to imports of many pandemic-related products. As of mid-May 2020, 65 of the 93 pandemic-related trade measures implemented during the monitoring period — or about 70 per cent — were of a trade-facilitating nature. The remaining 28 measures, 30 per cent of the total, could be considered to have trade-restrictive effects.