Report of the TPRB From the Director General on Trade-Related Developments



World Trade Organization

This WTO Trade Monitoring Report covers new trade and trade-related measures implemented by WTO Members between 16 October 2019 and 15 May 2020.1

This Report was prepared against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, which delivered an almost unprecedented shock to the global economy and caused exceptional social disruption around the world.2 The full impact of the pandemic is not yet reflected in trade statistics but is expected to be very substantial. In its trade forecast of 8 April 2020, the WTO considered two scenarios for the crisis, one relatively optimistic and the other more pessimistic. Under the optimistic scenario, the volume of world merchandise trade would fall by 12.9% and world GDP would decline by 2.5%. Under the pessimistic scenario, trade would contract by 31.9% and GDP would shrink by 8.8%. Trade is expected to rebound in 2021 under both scenarios, but only the optimistic one would see trade return to its pre-pandemic trend. The forecast only covers merchandise trade, but commercial services trade is also expected to be severely hit as a result of comprehensive travel restrictions and social distancing measures. Preliminary trade data and trade-related indicators for the first half of 2020 are thus far more consistent with the optimistic scenario than the pessimistic one, but actual outcomes could easily fall within or even outside of the forecast range, depending on how the crisis unfolds.

World trade was already slowing before the virus struck, weighed down by heightened trade tensions and slowing global economic growth. Merchandise trade was down 0.1% in volume terms in 2019, marking the first decline since 2009. Trade growth also slowed in nominal terms in 2019, as the dollar value of merchandise exports fell by 3% to USD 18.89 trillion. Although commercial services exports increased by 2% to USD 6.03 trillion in 2019, the pace of growth was down sharply from 9% in the previous year.

This Report shows that, by mid-May 2020, WTO Members had implemented 256 trade and trade- related measures explicitly linked to the COVID-19 pandemic. The implementation of these measures appeared to have come in two clearly identifiable waves. In the early stages of the pandemic, several of the measures introduced by WTO Members and Observers restricted the free flow of trade, principally for exports. However, as at mid-May 2020, 147 (57%) of all measures were of a trade- facilitating nature, and 109 measures (43%) could be considered to have a trade-restrictive effect. Export bans accounted for the totality of the pandemic-related export restrictions recorded. In early May, some Members began to phase out export constraints, targeting products such as surgical masks, gloves, medicine, and disinfectant. There is further evidence that a roll-back of other trade and trade-related measures taken in the early stages of the pandemic is also taking place. For instance, around 28% of the COVID-19-specific trade-restrictive measures implemented by WTO Members and Observers had been repealed by mid-May.


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