COVID-19 and Trade – A WTO Agenda
Wendy Cutler with the Washington International Trade Association (WITA)
On Thursday, March 26, the Asia Society Policy Institute, along with the Washington International Trade Association, cohosted a webinar about the COVID-19 pandemic and global trade, building off a blog that ASPI Vice President Wendy Cutler wrote a week prior that urged the global trading community to respond to the coronavirus with "bold and meaningful" initiatives.
Cutler and WITA Executive Director Ken Levinson were joined by the Swiss Institute of International Economics' Simon J. Evenett, Australian Embassy's Suzanna Fisher, Medtronic Vice President of International Relations Trevor Gunn, and WTO Deputy Director-General Amb. Alan Wolff to discuss the challenges that the virus has presented to trade flows as well as the role that multilateral work and trade liberalization can play in helping get through this period. Or, as Cutler described it, "using trade measures as part of a positive agenda toward an economic recovery."
Amb. Wolff outlined the role the WTO plays in encouraging members not to construct unnecessary barriers to trade in medical supplies. In fact, he said, the organization is encouraging countries to do the opposite. "Every member is free to lower its tariff rates," Wolff explained. "No problem at all—just do it."
Evenett shared encouraging news that, despite a recent "proliferation of export curbs on medical supplies," exports of medical supplies are beginning to pick up again from places such as China, South Korea, and Taiwan. However, Evenett noted that export curbs have begun to spread from medical supplies to food as well, calling it "a worrying trend."
Guests agreed that much of the positive news was coming unilaterally from individual countries, which Cutler bemoaned. "There’s a vacuum of leadership and the U.S. and China are at odds on so many issues," she said. To counter this, panelists suggested the WTO take the lead, and consider some new ideas. "In any future sectoral negotiation along these lines, we all need to really give some hard thought as to whether the MFN principle works, or whether we need to think about the benefits of the initiative being shared among the participants," Cutler said.
See more about the webinar on WITA's website.