COVID pandemic sparks sharp decline in new trade curbs – WTO

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva

GENEVA (Reuters) – The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a sharp decline in new measures to restrict trade as governments turned their attention to the health crisis and committed to keeping trade going, the World Trade Organization said in a report published on Wednesday.

The WTO report said new measures by G20 countries to limit imports of non-medical goods covered $42.9 billion (32.28 billion pounds) in the period from mid-May to mid-October. That compared with $417.5 billion in the prior period from mid-October 2019.

Restrictive measures narrowly outweighed those easing trade.

The report said that one factor for the lower coverage of such measures was that trade itself had declined – by 21% for goods and by 30% for commercial services in the second quarter.

Other factors it cited were a shift in governments’ attention to pandemic response, a general commitment to keep trade flowing and a relative ceasefire in trade conflicts such as between the United States and China that boosted the figures in 2018 and 2019.

Including all measures imposed since 2009, restrictions now affect just over 10% of imports into G20 countries, the report said.

“COVID-19 has resulted in an almost unprecedented drop in economic output and trade,” WTO Deputy Director-General Yonov Frederick Agah said in a statement.

“Trade will play a fundamental role in making a strong economic recovery possible, so it is encouraging to see the general commitment by G20 countries to keep trade flowing.”

For medical supplies and medicines, trade restrictive measures from January principally took the form of export bans and covered $111 billion of goods. However, this was outweighed by the measures to ease trade flows, while nearly 30% of the new restrictive measures had since been repealed.

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