WTO Members Share Lessons Learned on Export Restrictions during COVID-19 Pandemic

The Committee on Market Access held on 16 September the fourth of a series of experience-sharing sessions on trade in goods related to COVID-19. Members engaged in an open discussion aimed at better understanding their respective experience and practices with respect to export restrictions during the pandemic as well as lessons learned on how the international trade community can be better prepared for future crises.

Canada, Colombia, the European Union, the Kyrgyz Republic, the United Kingdom and the United States shared their national perspectives on the type of measures introduced to restrict trade in COVID-19 goods and the political choices underpinning them.

Presentations outlined the rationale for introducing restrictive trade policy measures in response to the pandemic. They also looked at the determining factors in the termination or non-renewal of certain measures and at the work done to review the effectiveness of export restrictions in any global crisis response.

Delegates agreed on the pertinence of this type of exercise for improving the way in which members notify measures to the WTO and revealing a full picture of the impact of export restrictions. These exchanges also allow members to consider the appropriate role of export restrictions in a rapidly changing environment, not only in the health context but also to confront other global crises.

Members welcomed the work by the WTO Secretariat to support members with the notification procedure and committed to look at practical actions that can be taken to promote any improvements in transparency, whether through a continued information exchange or by any other initiatives than can be agreed as part of the work of the Committee on Market Access.

The Chair of the Committee, Kenya Uehara of Japan, noted the many interesting topics covered by the session, including the historical context of GATT Article XI on the general elimination of quantitative restrictions (G/MA/W/179) and additional details on export restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We have seen the reasoning behind these measures, how they were targeted, how they were selected and reviewed over time, what the results have been and, at least in my opinion, what we have learned for future crises," Mr Uehara said.

"Members' diligence in notifying such measures to the Committee, together with their trade easing measures, over the previous two years has greatly contributed to increased transparency in trade during the COVID-19 pandemic and to more informed discussions in the Committee," he added.

The experience-sharing session followed on from three previous sessions organized by the Committee on Market Access. The first session on 4 March addressed two main topics: the definition of lists of essential goods to fight the pandemic and challenges related to tariff classification. Following that session, the Committee agreed to send a communication to the World Customs Organization highlighting the issues raised by members in relation to the classification of COVID-19 essential goods in the Harmonized System and providing some suggestions for the Harmonized System Committee to consider at its 70th Session (G/MA/406).

In the second session on 26 April, members reported on how they have monitored and measured trade in essential goods to combat the pandemic and discussed ways to improve data collection at a time of crisis. In addition, they explored how to promote greater international cooperation to better track the trade flows of value chains for manufacturing essential COVID-19-related products.

The third session on 18 July provided members the opportunity to share their practices on measures aimed at easing trade in COVID-19 goods under the purview of the Committee including, for example, in relation to tariff suspensions, reductions or eliminations.

As in the previous sessions, the WTO Secretariat will compile the information shared with the presentations by members. The Secretariat also regularly compiles and summarizes the relevant information contained in the communications notified by members with information on trade-easing measures as well as other measures by members as part of the WTO's Trade Monitoring Exercise. The factual report by the Secretariat is circulated in document G/MA/W/168 and its revisions.

In addition, the Chair will produce a report on the full series of experience sharing sessions that will be shared at the next formal meeting of the Committee, scheduled for 18-19 October. The formal Committee will be preceded on 17 October by a workshop on the Harmonized System (HS) transposition, jointly organized with the World Customs Organization (WCO).

COVID-19 survey

The Secretariat took the floor to present the preliminary results of a COVID-19 survey sent to members. The questionnaire included questions aimed at collecting and compiling information on some of the topics covered in the first two experience-sharing sessions, namely the establishment of a COVID-19 essential goods list at the national level, the classification of such goods in the national tariff nomenclature, and whether specific actions were taken to monitor trade in such goods.

The purpose of the survey is to allow more members to share such information and their experience beyond these sessions. Also, where possible, the idea is to identify common actions and practices in order to identify, classify and monitor trading of COVID-19 essential goods to date.

So far, 15 members have responded to the survey. The Chair encouraged those members that have not yet completed it to do so as soon as possible. "There is a lot of useful information generated from the survey that can certainly contribute to providing a more comprehensive picture of members' practices during the pandemic with respect to the issues covered by the survey," he said.

"The lack of information and knowledge of what other members did, or are still doing, at the national level to cope with the pandemic certainly was one of the factors that slowed down the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the main lessons learned from this pandemic is in fact the importance of sharing information and practices among members to build a more resilient response to future crises," he added.