The World Trade Organization (WTO has noted in its 2021 annual report that in mid-March 2020, in line with the Swiss Government’s recommendations, the then Director-General and Chair of the Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC), Roberto Azevêdo, suspended all meetings at the WTO, in coordination with the General Council Chair, until the end of April because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the months that followed, the WTO continued its meetings through a variety of formats – in-person (with limited numbers of delegations), fully virtual or hybrid.
In April, May and July, DG Azevêdo reported to heads of delegation on the WTO Secretariat’s efforts to respond to the pandemic and his outreach activities.
He pointed out that international cooperation on trade would be critical to helping all countries to build back better, and keeping markets open to trade would be part of achieving a post-COVID-19 economic recovery that was strong, sustainable and inclusive.
An open market is an economic system with little to no barriers to free-market activity.
While the immediate challenge was to fight the pandemic and save lives, WTO members emphasized the importance of keeping international trade flowing.
Concerns were expressed about export restrictions on medical supplies and food.
All delegations stressed that international cooperation and coordination of responses were important.
Various members and groups issued declarations, statements and proposals on trade and COVID-19 – highlighting challenges faced, actions needed or actions they had taken in response to the pandemic.
Members continued to emphasize the critical importance of transparency and information sharing on trade-related COVID-19 measures. As part of its longstanding monitoring and transparency mandate, the
WTO Secretariat continued to track trade
A number of new initiatives and proposals by groups of WTO members was discussed at meetings of the Trade Negotiations Committee.
Measures related to COVID-19 – both trade facilitating and trade-restrictive.
A Secretariat task force was set up to monitor how the pandemic was affecting international trade, and a dedicated area on the WTO website was created to provide up-to-the minute trade-related information on COVID-19.
The WTO worked closely with other intergovernmental organizations, including the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), and with international business organizations to encourage effective policy responses to the COVID-19 crisis.
The WTO also brought together six multilateral development banks to issue a joint statement in support of trade finance markets.