Trade policy and medical supplies during COVID-19: Ideas for avoiding shortages and ensuring continuity of trade



Simon J. Evenett | Global Trade Alert

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the fore concerns about shortages of medical goods, including vaccines, and about the risks associated with competition for supplies. Policymakers to date have often advocated ill-conceived approaches that misunderstand the dynamics of relevant supply chains.

International mechanisms have a role in supporting properly devised national initiatives to ensure resilient supplies in times of crisis. To this end, this paper proposes a three-part framework for policy coordination, consisting of:

— Promotion of effective public health responses, including early intervention in emergencies and potential domestic rationing of key supplies.

— Specific national measures for medical goods, including revised rules on domestic and overseas procurement, de-risking of supply chains, and ‘trade facilitation plans’ to suspend tariffs and taxes and fast-track port clearances. 

— A confidence-building MoU to codify key principles. Signatories would commit to joint-purchasing arrangements and data sharing on medical goods stockpiles. Swap arrangements for stockpiles should also be agreed. The MoU could be presented for adoption at the G7 summit in June 2021. It could also form the basis for a wider agreement to be announced on the sidelines of the 2021 UN General Assembly.

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