Members discuss impact of COVID-19 on developing economies’ participation in world trade
On 26 May, WTO members assessed the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the trading capacity of developing countries in a virtual meeting of the Committee on Trade and Development. The new chair, Afghanistan’s WTO Ambassador, Mohammad Qurban Haqjo, said: “Trade must form part of the solution in assisting and supporting recovery in developing countries.”
Several delegations reported a decline in their exports since the outbreak of COVID-19, noting that developing countries with limited resources are the most affected by the crisis, especially those whose exports are concentrated in a small range of goods. They also said the shift towards the digital economy is exacerbating the digital divide. The pandemic is a reminder of the world’s interconnectedness, several members said, accentuating the need to maintain stable and open supply chains to ensure the transmission of essential goods.
Reflecting on the future needs of developing countries, several members highlighted the importance of achieving greater diversification, improving resilience and modernizing manufacturing.
Members underscored the benefits of the rules-based multilateral trading system, stressing the need to engage collectively to find the best multilateral responses. WTO rules help to provide timely access to affordable medical products, support production-led growth and ensure that the most vulnerable receive assistance in building trading and production capacities, they said.
Some members underlined the importance of the Work Programme on electronic commerce and the WTO’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), which provides incentives for technology transfer to least-developed countries (LDCs). Reference was also made to ongoing initiatives to help developing countries build trading capacities, such as expediting customs procedures for emergency goods.
In addition, members stressed the need to develop policy tools to promote economic recovery, such as strengthening special and differential treatment for developing countries. Attention was drawn to the proposals by the G90 alliance of developing countries.
Developing countries also emphasized the need for policy space to help them pursue key objectives, such as protecting the lives of their citizens at this time of crisis.
The plight of African countries was stressed, as many depend on importing medical products. The continent is also affected by shrinking demand for its exports from both developed and developing countries. This is having a particularly negative impact on its agricultural sector and its participation in supply chains. Some delegations called on members to ensure that policy measures taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic do not affect Africa more than necessary and said they should be transparent, proportionate, temporary and non-discriminatory. They also highlighted the benefits of regional integration through the African Continental Free Trade Area.