COVID-19

The EU’s response to challenges to its actions on COVID-19 vaccine exports

At the WTO General Council meeting held on March 1-2 this week, agenda item 9 was aimed at the European Union. The agenda item, entitled “Call to Prevent Export Restrictions on COVID-19,” was put on the agenda by Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Panama and Paraguay. I had reviewed this agenda item as one of 16 agenda items that was likely to draw a fair amount of attention. See February 26, 2021, WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s first week on the job starts with a two day General Council meeting, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/02/26/wto-director-general-ngozi-okonjo-iwealas-first-week-on-the-job-starts-with-a-two-day-general-council-meeting/ (Agenda item 9 was added by Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Panama and Paraguay reflecting concerns by them (and presumably many other trading partners) about actions taken by the European Union to exert control over exports of vaccines from the EU in light of EU concerns about its own access to vaccines from manufacturers. See CALL TO PREVENT EXPORT RESTRICTIONS ON COVID-19 VACCINES, WT/GC/818 (18 February 2021)).

The new Director-General, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has stressed the importance of the WTO doing more to address the COVID-19 pandemic and help Members recover. Equitable and affordable access to vaccines is an issue of importance to the membership and stressed by the Director-General. See, e.g., March 3, 2021, WTO Director-General opinion piece in the Financial Times and recent actions by the U.S., https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/03/wto-director-general-opinion-piece-in-the-financial-times-and-recent-actions-by-the-u-s/; March 1, 2021, WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s opening statement at the March 1 General Council meeting, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/01/wto-director-general-ngozi-okonjo-iwealas-opening-statement-at-the-march-1-general-council-meeting/

While the EU Ambassador provided comments on various agenda items, agenda item 9 was obviously one of importance to the EU. See EU Statement at the General Council of 2 March 2021 on the “Call to Prevent Export Restrictions on Covid-19Vaccines,” 02 March 2021, https://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/world-trade-organization-wto/94083/eu-statement-general-council-2-march-2021-%E2%80%9Ccall-prevent-export-restrictions-covid-19-vaccines%E2%80%9D_en. EU Ambassador João Aguiar Machado provided a detailed justification for the EU actions in imposing an export licensing/authorization regime on COVID-19 vaccines claiming lack of transparency by pharmaceutical companies and the need to ensure “fair” distribution. The EU program does not affect vaccines for COVAX low- and middle-income countries nor for various neighboring countries. Of note, for countries covered by the export licensing/authorization scheme, there have been 150 export requests all of which have been granted. The statement is embedded below.

EU-Statement-at-the-General-Council-of-2-March-2021-on-the-Call-to-Prevent-Export-Restrictions-on-Covid-19-Vaccines-–-02-March-2021-European-External-Action-Service

The EU stressed that the major problem facing the world was global capacity far below global demand. The EU is working to identify production bottlenecks and to encourage producers to license their products to maximize global production and expressed a willingness to work with other WTO Members and with the Director-General. The part of the statement covering the demand/supply imbalance is copied below.

“However, the root causes of the problem lie elsewhere: the exploding global demand is well above the global production today. As long as this global industrial challenge is not met, and the world population is not vaccinated quickly enough, we will all face a risk of a continuing health emergency including new Covid-19 variants and a prolonged economic crisis.

“The European Union believes there is an important role for public authorities to play and to drive the increase of production, and to facilitate access to the vaccines and other treatments that are in need today. Cooperation must be promoted amongst the different participants along the value chains where necessary to enhance production capacities. A closer, more integrated and more strategic public-private cooperation with the industry is needed. In this spirit, the EU has set-up a Task Force for Industrial Scale-up of COVID-19 vaccines to detect and help respond to issues in real-time. In order to ramp up production, we will, amongst others, work closely with manufacturers to help monitor supply chains and address identified production bottlenecks. Since EU vaccine production is critical for global supply, the benefits of this initiative will extend beyond the EU’s borders.

“Scaling-up of production on a global level requires further actions. It will not happen without increased global collaboration with the pharmaceutical industry, which should facilitate the transfer of the right know-how and technology for the highly complex vaccine production process. We should facilitate this collaboration, while also recognising that intellectual property provides the necessary platform for it to take place. Waiving intellectual property rights would disrupt this collaboration and the transfer of know-how. In conclusion, Mr Chairman, we believe it is legitimate to engage the sector in order to ensure that all complementary production facilities across companies and continents are actively contributing to ramp up production. Companies that have tried and failed to develop a vaccine of their own, for example, should actively consider making their facilities available for the production of vaccines of successful companies. Companies with new vaccines should consider whether they have checked all options for licensing agreements to increase production. The objective should be to ensure they enter into licence agreements with companies around the world that have the necessary production capacities and could export the vaccines to any low middle-income countries without production capacities. At the same time, we should be mindful that the manufacturing campaigns for covid-19 vaccines do not crowd out the production of other life-saving vaccines and therapeutics.

“The EU, working together with other WTO Members and under the leadership of the Director-General Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is ready to facilitate a dialogue between the vaccine developers and companies with the production facilities that are ready to step in to help out with the production of vaccines and their delivery to the countries in need. We welcome the DG’s proposal to focus on collaboration among companies to enhance licensing in order to use all the adequate manufacturing capacity, including in developing countries. The EU is ready to facilitate this dialogue and contribute to the efforts on expanding these partnerships.

“The EU remains open to a dialogue with all WTO Members on how to facilitate the collaboration with the pharmaceutical industry on the transfer of know-how and technology. In the same manner, the EU remains open to a dialogue on how to facilitate the use of the TRIPS flexibilities, should the voluntary solutions fail or not be available. The flexibilities offered by the TRIPs Agreement are absolutely legitimate tools for Members in need, as many are in the midst of this pandemic. This includes fast track compulsory licences for export to countries without manufacturing capacity. Administrative burdens should not stand in the way of manufacturing and delivering vaccines to where they are needed.

“We believe that a successful contribution of the WTO to the current pandemic will require all WTO Members to agree on actions that will not only encompass the elements enshrined in the Ottawa Group’s proposal on Trade and Health, such as export restrictions or transparency, but also address the problem of insufficient manufacturing capacity. The EU stands ready to engage in such a dialogue.”

In my post yesterday, I reviewed some of the efforts that have already occurred where pharmaceutical companies are working with other companies to expand production and availability worldwide. See March 3, 2021:  WTO Director-General opinion piece in the Financial Times and recent actions by the U.S., https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/03/wto-director-general-opinion-piece-in-the-financial-times-and-recent-actions-by-the-u-s/. But the articles referenced yesterday are just some of the collaborations going on as manufacturers with existing capacity work with companies with COVID-19 vaccines to help expand capacity and production and vaccine manufacturers work with contract producers to expand supply chain capabilities. An additional cooperation agreement was announced today in the press. In addition, some governments, including the U.S. and EU have also worked with manufacturers to ramp up production. See, e.g., Wall Street Journal, Novartis to Help Make CureVac Covid-19 Vaccine, March 4, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/novartis-to-help-make-curevac-covid-19-vaccine-11614859271; Reuters, Poland strikes deal to produce Novavax COVID-19 vaccine, March 3, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-poland-mabion/poland-strikes-deal-to-produce-novavax-covid-19-vaccine-idUSKBN2AV19O (“Polish biotech firm Mabion has signed a preliminary agreement to manufacture Novavax’s COVID-19 vaccine with financial support from a state-run fund, as the government strives to accelerate its vaccination programme.”); PMLive, Novartis, Bayer announce separate agreements to bolster COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing, February 1, 2021, http://www.pmlive.com/pharma_news/novartis,_bayer_announce_separate_agreements_to_bolster_covid-19_vaccine_manufacturing_1362454#:~:text=Novartis%20and%20Bayer%20have%20announced,vaccine%20and%20CureVac’s%20vaccine%2C%20respectively.&text=Novartis%20will%20aim%20to%20begin,its%20site%20in%20Stein%2C%20Switzerland (“Novartis and Bayer have announced separate agreements to aid the manufacturing of Pfizer/BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine and CureVac’s vaccine, respectively.”); Pharmaceutical Technology, Pharmaceutical Technology-02-01-2021, Volume 2021
Supplement, Issue 1, Contract Service Tapped to Produce COVID-19 Vaccines, Page Number: s29-s30, https://www.pharmtech.com/view/contract-service-tapped-to-produce-covid-19-vaccines (reviewing actions by Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca, Novavax). Expanding supply also requires vaccines being approved by governments for use. The EU recently announced it was beginning review of the Russian vaccine Sputnik V. See The Globe and Mail, Europe starts review of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine to try to overcome shortages as new variants appear, March 4, 2021, https://www.theglobeandmail.com/world/article-europe-starts-review-of-russias-sputnik-v-vaccine-to-try-to-overcome/. And, of course, major producers are expanding where they are producing their vaccines using existing or new facilities. See, e.g., The Globe and Mail, Novavax publishes COVID-19 vaccine contract with Canada, March 4, 2021, https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-novavax-publishes-covid-19-vaccine-contract-with-canada/ (“American pharmaceutical company Novavax has published its vaccine agreement with Canada for 52 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine. The company expects to eventually produce some of the vaccine in Canada.”).

Thus, a great deal is going on to expand production capacity globally. Strong intellectual property laws are critical to the developments and resource commitments being made. While many developing countries are pushing to start a process of text drafting for a TRIPS waiver at the WTO, such an effort would be counterproductive to global health needs over the longer term. Washington Trade Daily’s March 2, 2021 edition at pages 5-7 has an article entitled “Call for TRIPS Waiver Negotiations” which presents the views of largely developing countries on the desire to move to negotiating text even though there is not agreement on the proposed waiver. See Washington Trade Daily, March 2, 2021, https://files.constantcontact.com/ef5f8ffe501/ed93e180-7dee-4beb-8629-0e73d4d0ea5c.pdf.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce released a statement on March 2nd characterizing the effort for a TRIPS waiver being promoted by India, South Africa and others as “misguided”. See U.S. Chamber, U.S. Chamber Statement on Proposed WTO IP Rights Waiver, March 2, 2021, https://www.uschamber.com/press-release/us-chamber-statement-proposed-wto-ip-rights-waiver. The statement is copied below (emphasis added to the third paragraph).

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Innovation Policy Center (GIPC) issued the following statement from Senior Vice President Patrick Kilbride regarding the World Trade Organization (WTO) General Council’s discussion of a proposed waiver of intellectual property (IP) commitments in the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement. 
 
“‘Vaccine distribution is critical for ending the pandemic and reviving the global economy. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce welcomes the WTO General Council’s discussion of the role of intellectual property rights in defeating the COVID-19 pandemic. During this time, transparent and predictable intellectual property rights have formed the legal and economic basis for an unprecedented level of highly successful collaborations between government, industry, academia and NGOs. 
 
“‘The Chamber supports decisive and bold action to remove regulatory and trade barriers in order to boost the global distribution of treatments and vaccines, including support of global vaccine programs such as COVAX. Proposals to waive intellectual property rights are misguided and a distraction from the real work of reinforcing supply chains and assisting countries to procure, distribute and administer vaccines to billions of the world’s citizens. Diminishing intellectual property rights would make it more difficult to quickly develop and distribute vaccines or treatments in the future pandemics the world will face.  
 
“’The ‘3rd Way’ proposed by incoming WTO Director General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to encourage licensing agreements is worthy of further discussion and consistent with the ongoing success of government-industry efforts to bring an end to COVID-19 as rapidly and as safely as possible.’”

Conclusion 

While there has been a lot of concern among trading partners about the EU action in imposing export licensing of COVID-19 vaccines, to date the licensing system does not appear to have caused problems in fact in the distribution of doses ordered by the group of countries covered by the new system. Moreover, with or without government encouragement, vaccine producers have been working to expand production through arrangements with other vaccine producers, through working with contract manufacturers, and by expanding facilities and internal capacities.

There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic presents a once in a century global health pandemic with demand at the beginning far outstripping supply. Governments have a role to play working with producers, suppliers, those involved in distribution and applying the vaccines to address bottlenecks, to provide encouragement and incentives to rapidly expand production and to support the efforts of the WHO, GAVI, CEPI, and UNICEF to fund the needs of COVAX. While concerns in the early days of vaccine rollout are understandable, COVAX has contracts with a number of vaccine producers and others under negotiation or awaiting approval. AstraZeneca, the first vaccine producer with a contract to supply COVAX put out a press release on March 2, 2021 which is copied in part below. See AstraZeneca, AstraZeneca advances mass global rollout of COVID-19 vaccine through COVAX, March 2, 2021, https://www.astrazeneca.com/media-centre/press-releases/2021/astrazeneca-advances-mass-global-rollout-of-covid-19-vaccine-through-covax.html.

Supply to 142 countries underway as part of the unprecedented effort to bring
broad and equitable access to the vaccine

“AstraZeneca with its partner Serum Institute of India
will be the biggest initial supplier to COVAX
 

“The first of many millions of doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine have begun arriving in low and middle-income countries across the world through the multilateral COVAX initiative, the first steps in fulfilling the Company’s efforts to provide broad and equitable access to the vaccine.

“First COVAX shipments were dispatched late last week to Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire, and more are due to begin arriving this week in countries including the Philippines, Indonesia, Fiji, Mongolia and Moldova. This supply represents the first COVID-19 vaccine for many of these countries.

“Further shipments will arrive in the coming weeks with the aim of supplying a total of 142 countries with hundreds of millions of doses of the vaccine in the coming months. The majority of these doses, manufactured by AstraZeneca and its licence partner Serum Institute of India, will go to low and middle-income countries.

“Pascal Soriot, Chief Executive Officer, Astra Zeneca, said: ‘These first steps towards fulfilling our broad, equitable and no-profit emergency response to the pandemic mean millions of people, irrespective of their country’s income level, will soon be protected against this deadly virus. This is a moment of great pride for us at AstraZeneca and I am extremely grateful to our partners including Gavi, CEPI and Oxford University for their hard work and dedication in order to make this humanitarian ideal a reality for many millions of people around the world.’

“Seth Berkley, Chief Executive Officer, Gavi, said: ‘Global, equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines is only possible when the public and private sectors work together. When we launched the Gavi COVAX Advance Market Commitment in June 2020, our first Agreement was with AstraZeneca. Nine months later, the first doses are already being delivered to those that need them most. This is the beginning of COVAX’s effort to end the acute phase of the pandemic, not the end, but we can all take strength from this moment and I thank AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford for their support and partnership at every step of our journey.’

“Vaccine shipments have been allocated according to the COVAX Allocation Framework which determines volume per participating country based on a number of factors, including country readiness, national regulatory authorisations and national vaccination plans in place. The supply through COVAX follows the recent Emergency Use Listing by the World Health Organization (WHO) for active immunisation in individuals 18 years of age and older, which provides a vital and accelerated pathway to enable supply.

“AstraZeneca was the first global pharmaceutical company to join COVAX in June 2020 in line with the Company’s shared commitment to global, equitable access to vaccines.

“The vaccine can be stored, transported and handled at normal refrigerated conditions (2-8 degrees Celsius/36-46 degrees Fahrenheit) for at least six months and administered within existing healthcare settings.”

The “third way” sought by the WTO Director-General has been underway for some time and is picking up speed as vaccines start to be approved. There are an increasing number of announced agreements among producers to work together to expand production of particular vaccines. Thus, collaboration and cooperation among producers has and is occurring. Governments can help by identifying bottlenecks in all areas relevant to raw materials, intermediate products, finished vaccine doses, distribution and resources to apply the vaccines and helping to resolve the bottlenecks; by encouraging increased ramp ups of capacity and production, including through licensing.

A broad waiver of TRIPS obligations as being pursued by India, South Africa and many other developing and least developed countries is unwise, unlikely to be agreed to, and if implemented, will backfire in terms of global cooperation in getting the world’s population vaccinated and will destroy the likelihood of private sector engagement to solve future pandemics. The EU’s approach as laid out in EU Ambassador João Aguiar Machado’s statement on March 2 is likely the best course forward whether through the WTO or otherwise.

WTO Director-General opinion piece in the Financial Times and recent actions by the U.S.

WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on her second day on the job in Geneva had an opinion piece in the Financial Times taking to the public her message to the WTO membership that “WTO members must intensify co-operation”. Financial Times, Opinion, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala: WTO members must intensify co-operation, March 2, 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/0654600f-92cc-47ad-bfe6-561db88f7019. To a large extent, the opinion piece reflects her opening statement to the General Council on March 1st. See March 1, 2021, WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s opening statement at the March 1 General Council meeting, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/01/wto-director-general-ngozi-okonjo-iwealas-opening-statement-at-the-march-1-general-council-meeting/. The opinion piece starts with the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for equitable and affordable access to vaccines and other medical goods. The Director-General (DG) then goes through the reforms and ongoing negotiations that need to be addressed. The topics include completion of the fisheries subsidies negotiations, dispute settlement reform, updating the rule book to include topics like digital trade and other Joint Statement initiatives, restarting negotiations on environmental goods and services, various topics in agriculture (market access, domestic subsidies, removal of export restrictions on farm products purchased for humanitarian purposes by the World Food Programme) and rules to address distortions flowing from industrial subsidies to state-owned enterprises.

For this post, I will focus on the access to vaccines issue and recent actions by the United States (but also others) on this topic.

Two paragraphs from the opinion piece lay out the views of the Director-General on access to vaccines. They are copied below.

“However, for the global economy to return to sustained growth, we must intensify co-operation to ensure equitable and affordable access to vaccines, therapetics and diagnostics. The WTO can and must play a more forceful role in encouraging members to minimise or remove export restrictions and prohibitions that hinder supply chains for medical goods and equipment.

WTO members have a further responsibility to reject vaccine nationalism and protectionism while co-operating on promising new treatments and vaccines. We must find a ‘third way’ on intellectual property that preserves the multilateral rules that encourage research and innovation while promoting licensing agreements to help scale-up manufacturing of medical products. Some pharmaceutical companies such as AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, and the Serum Institute of India are already doing this.”

While India and South Africa have sought a waiver for all WTO Members from most TRIPS Agreement obligations during the pandemic, that proposal has not received the backing from various developed countries with pharmaceutical industries, a fact the new DG saw first hand during the General Council meeting of March 1-2 where the TRIPS Council reported that there was not yet agreement on what to recommend on the proposal. Rather through the WHO, GAVI and CEPI and the creation of COVAX to buy vaccines for low- and middle-income countries and others wishing to participate, the expectation has been that some 2 billion doses would be available through COVAX in 2021 starting in February and ramping up, with 1.3 billion doses going to 92 countries needing assistance.

In her opening statement to the General Council, DG Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala indicated that COVAX would not be enough even though shipments had started. The latest COVAX interim distribution forecast is embedded below and dates from February 3 and shows the number of doses from the AstraZeneca/Serum Institute, from AstraZeneca’s own facilities and from Pfizer/BioNTech.

COVAX-Interim-Distribution-Forecast

Press accounts identify Ghana as the first recipient from COVAX, but other countries have already received the vaccines as well. See, e.g., World health Organization, First COVID-19 COVAX vaccine doses administered in Africa, March 1, 2021,https://www.who.int/news/item/01-03-2021-first-covid-19-covax-vaccine-doses-administered-in-africa; Pan American Health Organization, Colombia receives the first vaccines arriving in the Americas through COVAX, March 1, 2021, https://www.paho.org/en/news/1-3-2021-colombia-receives-first-vaccines-arriving-americas-through-covax. The Financial Times vaccine tracker shows that by March 3, 2021, 268.6 million doses had been administered in 128 locations/countries. Financial Times, Covid-19 vaccine tracker: the global race to vaccinate, March 3, 2021, https://ig.ft.com/coronavirus-vaccine-tracker/?areas=gbr&areas=isr&areas=usa&areas=eue&cumulative=1&populationAdjusted=1.

In recent weeks, the United States confirmed it was contributing $4 billion to COVAX ($2 billion immediately and $2 billion over the rest of 2021 and 2022). Other countries and the EU increased contributions as well and some countries have agreed to send some vaccine doses as well. See February 19, 2021, COVAX’s efforts to distribute COVID-19 vaccines  to low- and middle income countries — additional momentum received from G-7 virtual meeting, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/02/19/covaxs-efforts-to-distribute-covid-19-vaccines-to-low-and-middle-income-countries-additional-momentum-from-g-7-virtual-meeting/

From a recent WHO release it is clear that GAVI and the other COVAX partners are working at expanding available vaccines and seeking additional funding beyond what has already been provided or promised. Vaccines from Johnson & Johnson and potentially from Novavax were identified. See UN News, Equitable vaccine delivery plan needs more support to succeed: COVAX partners, March 2, 2021, https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/03/1086142. The release is embedded below.

Equitable-vaccine-delivery-plan-needs-more-support-to-succeed_-COVAX-partners-_-_-UN-News

“intensify co-operation”

There have been efforts at co-operation from the beginning as AstraZeneca’s licensing of its product to India’s Serum Institute demonstrated.

In the United States, President Biden on March 2 announced co-operation between Merck and Johnson & Johnson where Merck will convert two facilities to help in the production of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. This has been supported by the United States through use of the Defense Production Act to speed access to equipment needed for the conversion. Merck is a major vaccine producer but doesn’t have a viable COVID-19 vaccine of its own. See NPR, How The White House Got 2 Pharma Rivals To Work Together On COVID-19 Vaccine, March 3, 2021, https://www.npr.org/2021/03/03/973117712/how-the-white-house-got-2-pharma-foes-to-work-together-on-covid-19-vaccine. This is the type of co-operation that DG Okonjo-Iweala referenced in her opinion piece yesterday.

Johnson & Johnson in late February had struck an arrangement with Sanofi in France for similar cooperation at one of Sanofi’s facilities in France. Similarly, Sanofi had earlier struck a deal with Pfizer-BioNTech. See Sanofi, Sanofi to provide manufacturing support to Johnson & Johnson for their COVID-19 vaccine to help address global supply demands, February 22, 2021, https://www.sanofi.com/-/media/Project/One-Sanofi-Web/Websites/Global/Sanofi-COM/Home/media-room/press-releases/2021/20200222-Sanofi-statement-EN.pdf.

The world’s largest vaccine producer, GlaxoSmithKline, has entered an agreement to help produce CureVac produce some of CureVac’s first generation COVID-19 vaccine in 2021 and “to jointly develop next generation mRNA vaccines for COVID-19 with the potential for a multi-valent approach to address multiple emerging variants in one vaccine.” See GSK, GSK and CureVac to develop next generation mRNA COVID-19vaccines, 3 February 2021, https://www.gsk.com/en-gb/media/press-releases/gsk-and-curevac-to-develop-next-generation-mrna-covid-19-vaccines/.

There are, of course, other vaccine producers — China has multiple vaccines developed, Russia, India, Cuba has two in development — including companies who do not have a COVID-19 vaccine in development. Thus, additional opportunities for co-operation should exist for those producers as well.

Conclusion

There is understandably great focus within the WTO and its Members in getting past the COVID-19 pandemic and getting economies back on growth paths. The rapid development of vaccines has been critical and has seen extraordinary success in the 15 months since COVID-19 was first identified. The R&D efforts globally have been stunning and have received some government support which has undoubtedly been important particularly in giving pharmaceutical companies an assist in early efforts to ramp up production. There is no question that the R&D efforts would not have occurred at the level that has taken place without strong intellectual property protections.

There has been great efforts by the WHO along with GAVI and CEPI to prepare to be able to get large quantities of vaccines to low- and middle-income countries when vaccines are available including by contracting with multiple companies pursuing a vaccine, reserving capacity, etc. There have been efforts by many countries to help build support for the COVAX approach and to provide funding for the purchase of vaccines for those in need. The effort is having success and can be more successful as 2021 moves into the second quarter and as countries, NGOs, businesses and individuals contribute to see that there is adequate funding for the effort being undertaken.

In addition to COVAX, a number of countries have been sending some of their production of vaccines to other countries. These include China, Russia and India. The U.S. has been in discussions with Japan, Australia and India for helping in getting vaccines to some countries as well. See Financial Times, US and Asia allies plan Covid vaccine strategy to counter China, March 3, 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/1dc04520-c2fb-4859-9821-c405f51f8586. These efforts are likely to accelerate as 2021 moves into the 3rd and 4th quarters.

Moreover, many of the major Western pharmaceutical companies engaged in vaccine production have partnered with other companies around the world to expand capacity and production of vaccines that have proven successful. So cooperation is already occurring. The Biden Administration’s efforts in recent weeks with Johnson & Johnson and Merck show that government involvement to encourage cooperation for expanding capacity and production and providing assistance in terms of availability of supplies can be an important assist to ramping up production.

Thus, the track record to date does not support a waiver of most TRIPS obligations as has been requested by the world’s largest producer of vaccines (India) and South Africa. Private companies have worked with partners on developments and in a number of cases on producing vaccines. Early success vaccines like Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have led to significant increases in plans for production by those companies through their own operations or through partnering with others. A number of other vaccines are now approved in major markets or are close to being approved. Significant funding has been provided or promised to make vaccines available to those in need at no cost.

All of the above is “the third way” sought by the new Director-General. It is already working. The WTO should focus its efforts on export restraints on medical goods and collaborate with other multilateral organizations to understand bottlenecks in capacity expansions, supply chain issues, distribution challenges and other aspects to determine if there are matters requiring WTO attention.

COVAX’s efforts to distribute COVID-19 vaccines to low- and middle income countries — additional momentum from G-7 virtual meeting

With the COVID-19 pandemic affecting populations around the world with more than 110 million people having been infected and with more than 2.4 million deaths, the world is anxiously awaiting vaccines to permit vaccinations for vulnerable populations. The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance (Gavi) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are co-leads of the COVAX initiative which seeks to provide equitable global access to COVID-19 vaccines. More than 2 billion vaccine doses have been or are being contracted to supply to 92 low- and middle-income countries as well as other countries who have agreed to buy vaccines through COVAX.

The World Health Organization’s Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has expressed concern about “vaccine nationalism” as large and wealthier countries have contracted for large amounts of vaccines. In a joint statement with the UNICEF Executive Director on February 10, the WHO DG laid out what is needed in 2021 to achieve vaccine equitable distribution. See In the COVID-19 vaccine race, we either win together or lose together, Joint statement by UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore and WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, 10 February 2021, https://www.who.int/news/item/10-02-2021-in-the-covid-19-vaccine-race-we-either-win-together-or-lose-together. The joint statement is embedded below.

In-the-COVID-19-vaccine-race-we-either-win-together-or-lose-together

The problem of vaccine availability can be traced to a number of sources including the inability to predict which development efforts would succeed, efforts by governments to support development through funding and advance contracts which do not always support the early vaccine successes, challenges of approval processes in different countries and more. However, it is clear that in the early days of the vaccine rollout, a handful of countries have been able to obtain the largest amount of vaccine doses and to provide vaccinations to citizens. For example, the Financial Times has an update of its “Covid-19 vaccine tracker: the global race to vaccinate” published today (February 19) that looks at data for 99 countries or territories where vaccinations are reported through mid-February. Of a global total of 194.4 million vaccinations, 91.6% are reported by the following 10 countries or groups of countries: United States, 57.2 million; China 40.5 million; European Union, 24.7 million; United Kingdom, 17.0 million; India, 10.2 million; Israel, 7.1 million; Brazil 6.2 million; Turkey, 5.9 million; United Arab Emirates, 5.4 million; Russian Federation, 3.9 million. Of the 99 countries or territories, 24 reported vaccinations of at least 10/100 residents, an additional 30 reported vaccinations of at least 5.0-9.9/100 residents and an additional 10 reported vaccinations of at least 3.0-4.9/100. Gavi views 3% as the percent of population needed to be vaccinated to address health care workers. See Financial Times, Covid-19 vaccine tracker: the global race to vaccinate, February 19, 2021, https://ig.ft.com/coronavirus-vaccine-tracker/?areas=gbr&areas=usa&areas=eue&areas=ind&cumulative=1&populationAdjusted=0

At today’s G-7 virtual meeting, there were new pledges from G-7 countries to contribute to COVAX to permit the purchase of vaccine doses contracted and with some countries agreeing to share surplus vaccine doses with the world’s poorest countries. The Gavi press release of today is embedded below.

G7-backs-Gavis-COVAX-Advance-Market-Commitment-to-boost-COVID-19-vaccines-in-worlds-poorest-countries-_-Gavi-the-Vaccine-Alliance

In the December 2020 stimulus package, Congress authorized some funding for COVAX. President Biden outlined the U.S. contributions in a Fact Sheet posted on the White House webpage yesterday and at the G-7 virtual meeting today. See White House, Fact Sheet: President Biden to Take Action on Global health through Support of COVAX and Calling for Health Security Financing, February 18, 2021, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/02/18/fact-sheet-president-biden-to-take-action-on-global-health-through-support-of-covax-and-calling-for-health-security-financing/; New York Times, Biden Declares ‘America is Back’ on International Stage: Live Updates, February 19, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/live/2021/02/19/world/g7-meeting-munich-security-conference#global-leaders-chart-a-new-course-in-post-trump-era. The fact sheet is embedded below and reports the U.S. will be contributing $2.0 billion quickly and $2.0 billion more over the remainder of 2021 and 2022.

Fact-Sheet_-President-Biden-to-Take-Action-on-Global-Health-through-Support-of-COVAX-and-Calling-for-Health-Security-Financing-_-The-White-House

Conclusion

Much of the activity at the WTO over the last year has focused on the trade challenges flowing from the COVID-19 pandemic. Trade restrictions on exports of medical goods and agricultural goods have been tracked with various efforts to minimize scope and duration. Efforts at expediting the movement of medical goods and agricultural products have also been pursued, and debates have occurred on whether TRIPS rights should be waived during the pandemic to improve access to medical goods during the pandemic. Most advanced countries with pharmaceutical producers have argued that there are sufficient flexibilities within the WTO TRIPS Agreement to handle the current challenges. At the same time over recent years there have been efforts through the WHO, CEPI and GAVI and with the assistance of UNICEF to provide the infrastructure to permit collective purchasing of vaccines and other medical goods and the collection of funds to permit assisting low- and middle-income countries in terms of vaccine availability. COVID-19 is a truly global pandemic. The pressure on governments to find solutions is obviously enormous. Actions like those by the G-7 today and by other governments, NGOs and others to address the COVID-19 challenge are along the lines of what is needed to have more equitable distribution of vaccines. As the UN and WHO keep saying, no one is safe until all are safe.

The challenges for COVAX are huge and the goal for 2021 is to get 20% of the populations part of the program vaccinated. Developed countries and others able to do so need to continue to cooperate to see that these goals for 2021 are met and that further help is available moving into 2022. A study commissioned by the ICC estimates the global costs of not moving quickly to get all people in the world vaccinated at being more than $8 trillion — a figure that dwarfs the costs to get the vaccines produced, distributed and shots given. Hopefully, the world will cooperate and do what is needed to see that all countries can recover from the current pandemic in a timely manner.

COVID-19 agricultural fall out — higher prices for many consumers and greater food insecurity

The World Bank’s President David Malpass in a February 1st posting on Voices flagged the challenges for many of the world’s poorest people flowing from the COVID-19 pandemic — higher food prices, greater hunger, more people pushed into extreme poverty. See World Bank blog,COVID crisis is fueling food price rises for world’s poorest, February 1, 2021, https://blogs.worldbank.org/voices/covid-crisis-fueling-food-price-rises-worlds-poorest. The post was originally published in the Guardian. The post is copied in its entirety below (emphasis in the original webpost).

“Over the last year, COVID-19 has undone the economic, health and food security of millions, pushing as many as 150 million people into extreme poverty. While the health and economic impacts of the pandemic have been devastating, the rise in hunger has been one of its most tangible symptoms. 

Income losses have translated into less money in people’s pockets to buy food while market and supply disruptions due to movement restrictions have created local shortages and higher prices, especially for perishable food.  This reduced access to nutritious food will have negative impacts on the health and cognitive development of COVID-era children for years to come.

“Global food prices, as measured by a World Bank food price index, rose 14% last year. Phone surveys conducted periodically by the World Bank in 45 countries show significant percentages of people running out of food or reducing their consumption. With the situation increasingly dire, the international community can take three key actions in 2021 to increase food security and help prevent a larger toll on human capital.

“The first priority is enabling the free flow of food. To avoid artificial shortages and price spikes, food and other essential goods must flow as freely as possible across borders.  Early in the pandemic, when perceived shortages and panic generated threats of export bans, the international community helped keep food trade flows open. Credible and transparent information about the state of global food inventories – which were at comfortable levels pre-COVID – along with unequivocal free-trade statements from the G20, World Trade Organization, and regional cooperation bodies helped reassure traders, and led to helpful policy responses. Special rules for agriculture, food workers and transport corridors restored supply chains that had been briefly disrupted within countries.

“We need to remain vigilant and avoid backsliding into export restrictions and hardened borders that make food – and other essentials – scarce or more costly.

“The second priority is bolstering social safety nets. Short-term social safety nets offer a vital cushion for families hit by the health and economic crises. In Ethiopia, for example, households that experienced problems in satisfying their food needs initially increased by 11.7 percentage points during the pandemic, but participants in our long-running Productive Safety Net program were shielded from most of the negative effects.

“The world has mounted an unprecedented social protection response to COVID-19. Cash transfers are now reaching 1.1 billion people, and innovative delivery mechanisms are rapidly identifying and reaching new groups, such as informal urban workers. But ‘large scale’ is not synonymous with ‘adequate’. In a review of COVID-19 social response programs, cash transfer programs were found to be:

“–Short-term in their duration – lasting just over three months on average

“–Small in value – an average of $6 (£4.30) per capita in low-income countries

“–Limited in scope – with many in need remaining uncovered

“The pandemic has reinforced the vital imperative of increasing the world’s investments in social protection systems. Additional measures to expedite cash transfers, particularly via digital means, would also play an important role in reducing malnutrition.

“The third priority is enhancing prevention and preparedness. The world’s food systems endured numerous shocks in 2020, from economic impacts on producers and consumers to desert locust swarms and erratic weather.  All indicators suggest that this may be the new normal. The ecosystems we rely on for water, air and food supply are under threat. Zoonotic diseases are on the rise owing to growing demographic and economic pressures on land, animals and wildlife.

“A warming planet is contributing to costlier and more frequent extreme weather events. And as people pack into low-quality housing in urban slums or vulnerable coastal areas, more are living in the path of disease and climate disaster.

“Development gains can be wiped out in the blink of an eye. Our experience with hurricanes or seismic events shows that it is more effective to invest in prevention, before a catastrophe strikes. That’s why countries need adaptive social protection programs – programs that are connected to food security early warning systems and can be scaled up in anticipation of shocks.

“The time is long overdue to shift to practices that safeguard and increase food and nutrition security in ways that will endure. The to-do list is long and urgent. We need sustained financing for approaches that prioritize human, animal and planetary health; restore landscapes and diversify crops to improve nutrition; reduce food loss and waste; strengthen agricultural value chains to create jobs and recover lost incomes; and deploy effective climate-smart agriculture techniques on a much greater scale.

“The World Bank Group and partners are ready to help countries reform their agriculture and food policies and redeploy public finance to foster a green, inclusive, and resilient recovery.

Focusing on food security would address a basic injustice: almost one in 10 people live in chronic hunger in an age of food waste and plenty.  This focus would also strengthen our collective ability to weather the next storm, flood, drought, or pandemic – with safe and nutritious food for all.”

Food insecurity is an issue for all countries although most pressing for the poorest countries

The challenges noted by the World Bank President also face most other countries. For example, in the United States, there has been a massive increase in the number of people getting food from food banks and estimates are that one in seven Americans needs food assistance. Feeding America, The Impact of Coronavirus on Food Insecurity, October 2020, https://www.feedingamerica.org/research/coronavirus-hunger-research (“Combining analyses at the national, state, county, and congressional district levels, we show how the number of people who are food insecure in 2020 could rise to more than 50 million, including 17 million children.”) The challenges for schools not being able to have in school education has complicated the challenge in the United States as millions of children receive food from their schools but need alternative sources when schools are not able to provide in school classes. See, e.g., Brookings Institution, Hungry at Thanksgiving: A Fall 2020 update on food insecurity in the U.S., November 23, 2020, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2020/11/23/hungry-at-thanksgiving-a-fall-2020-update-on-food-insecurity-in-the-u-s/ (reviews the increase in food insecurity and the various safety net programs in the U.S. attempting to address).

World Trade Organization involvement in addressing the problem

The World Trade Organization is directly involved in addressing the first priority identified by World Bank President Malpass — enabling the free flow of food. However, the WTO also monitors government support efforts and has the ability to be tackling trade and environment issues which could affect the third priority by reducing climate change.

WTO Members under WTO rules can impose export restraints under certain circumstances and in the first half of 2020, a number of members imposed export restraints on particular agricultural products and many imposed export restraints on certain medical goods. At the same time, the lockdown of countries had significant effects on the movement of goods and people. Many WTO Members have urged limiting such restraints and the WTO Secretariat has monitored both restraints imposed, when such restraints have been lifted (if they have), and trade liberalization efforts to speed the movement of important goods. See, e.g., WTO, COVID-19 and world trade, https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/covid19_e/covid19_e.htm; WTO, COVID-19 AND AGRICULTURE: A STORY OF RESILIENCE, INFORMATION NOTE, 26 August 2020, https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/covid19_e/agric_report_e.pdf; WTO, COVID-19: Measures affecting trade in goods, updated as of 1 February 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/covid19_e/trade_related_goods_measure_e.htm. The August paper on COVIDE-19 and Agriculture is embedded below.

agric_report_e

There have been a number of proposals by certain WTO Members to forego export restraints on agricultural products during the pandemic. None have been acted upon by the membership as a whole, but the communications often reflect commitments of certain Members to keep agricultural markets open during the pandemic. See, e.g., RESPONDING TO THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC WITH OPEN AND PREDICTABLE TRADE IN AGRICULTURAL AND FOOD PRODUCTS, STATEMENT FROM: AUSTRALIA; BRAZIL; CANADA; CHILE; COLOMBIA; COSTA RICA; ECUADOR; EUROPEAN UNION; GEORGIA; HONG KONG, CHINA; JAPAN; REPUBLIC OF KOREA; MALAWI; MALAYSIA; MEXICO; NEW ZEALAND; NICARAGUA; PARAGUAY; PERU; QATAR; KINGDOM OF SAUDI ARABIA; SINGAPORE; SWITZERLAND; THE SEPARATE CUSTOMS TERRITORY OF TAIWAN, PENGHU, KINMEN AND MATSU; UKRAINE; UNITED ARAB EMIRATES; UNITED KINGDOM; UNITED STATES; AND URUGUAY, WT/GC/208/Rev.2, G/AG/30/Rev.2, 29 May 2020. The document is embedded below.

208R2-3

More can and should be done, including a WTO-wide agreement to forego agricultural export restraints during the current pandemic or future pandemics. However, there are strong objections to any such limits from a number of WTO Members including large and important countries like China, India and South Africa.

Indeed, efforts to get agreement at the December 2020 General Council meeting that countries would not block agricultural exports to the UN’s World Food Programme for humanitarian purposes was blocked by a number of countries. While 79 WTO Members in January 2021 provided a joint pledge not to prevent agricultural exports to the UN World Food Programme, it is a sign of the sensitivity of food security to many countries that a very limited humanitarian proposal could not obtain the agreement of all WTO Members in a period of hightened need by many of the world’s poorest countries. See January 23, 2021, WTO and the World Food Programme – action by 79 Members after a failed December effort at the General Council, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/01/23/wto-and-the-world-food-programme-action-by-79-members-after-a-failed-december-effort-at-the-general-council/.

Conclusion

The COVID-19 pandemic has extracted a huge cost from the world economy, has pushed tens of millions of people into extreme poverty, has cost hundreds of millions people employment (full or partial), is complicating the education of the world’s children with likely long lasting effects, has exposed potential challenges to achieving global cooperation on a range of matters including the desirability of limiting or not imposing export restraints on agricultural and medical goods.

While the focus of countries and the media in the last several months has shifted to access to vaccines and ensuring greater equitable distribution of such vaccines at affordable prices, there remains much that needs to be done to better address food insecurity during the pandemic. International organizations like the World Bank, IMF and WTO, countries, businesses and NGOs need to se that both core issues are addressed in the coming months.


The EU’s export authorization requirement for COVID-19 vaccines — contrary to their oft repeated position of maintaining open markets during the pandemic

If one ever needed confirmation that WTO Members can easily fall out of supporting open markets and working together during a global crisis, the European Union’s actions over the last week to come up with an implementing regulation “making the exportation of certain products subject to the production of an export authorization” provide a glaring example.

Faced with the receipt of fewer doses of vaccines by the three manufacturers approved (with one only approved last week) for distribution within the EU, the EU faced harsh criticism from member states over the inadequate supplies of vaccines in the December – February period to vaccinate their populations. Harsh criticism was also reflected in press coverage. See, e.g., New York Times, Vaccine Shortages Hit E.U. in a Setback for Its Immunization Race, January 27, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/27/world/europe/europe-covid-vaccinations.html; Der Spiegel, Europe’s Vaccine Disaster, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen Seeking to Duck Responsibility, 29 January 2021, https://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/europe-s-vaccine-disaster-commission-president-ursula-von-der-leyen-seeking-to-duck-responsibility-a-1197547d-6219-4438-9d69-b76e64701802; Financial Times, Shortage of coronavirus shots heaps pressure on European leaders, 29 January 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/fe851440-abcb-43e0-a7c9-a86a05d275db.

The response was to resort to a form of export restraints on vaccines and inputs for vaccines where the European Union and its member states would decide whether shipments to certain third countries (largely wealthier countries around the world) would be allowed. Some statements made by the European Commission and the implementing regulation are embedded below.

CELEX_32021R0111_EN_TXT

Commission_statement_on_the_vaccine_export_authorisation_scheme

Opening_remarks_by_Executive_Vice-President_Valdis_Dombrovskis_at_the_press_conference_on_the_transparency_and_authorisation_mechanism_for_exports_of_COVID-19_vaccines

Opening_remarks_by_Commissioner_Stella_Kyriakides_at_the_press_conference_on_the_transparency_and_authorisation_mechanism_for_exports_of_COVID-19_vaccines

Questions_and_Answers__Transparency_and_authorisation_mechanism_for_exports_of_COVID-19_vaccines-1

The action of the European Union last week is in sharp contrast to the joint initiative from the Ottawa Group, of which the EU is a member. In a post last November, I reviewed a text put forward by the Ottawa Group which called for limiting the use of export restraints during the pandemic. See November 27, 2020, The Ottawa Group’s November 23 communication and draft elements of a trade and health initiative, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/27/the-ottawa-groups-november-23-communication-and-draft-elements-of-a-trade-and-health-initiative/. Several excerpts from the earlier post are provided below.

“The Ottawa Group agreed to put forward a communication seeking action by WTO Members. Each of Canada and the EU (and likely other members) put out press releases. See, e.g., Government of Canada, November 23, 2020, Minister Ng hosts successful ministerial meeting of the Ottawa Group on WTO reform, https://www.canada.ca/en/global-affairs/news/2020/11/minister-ng-hosts-successful-ministerial-meeting-of-the-ottawa-group-on-wto-reform.html; European Commission, Directorate-General for Trade, 23 November 2020, Ottawa Group proposes a global Trade and Health Initiative, https://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/press/index.cfm?id=2215&title=Ottawa-Group-proposes-a-global-Trade-and-Health-Initiative.

“The Canadian press release states in part, ‘As countries face a rise in COVID-19 cases, it is essential that governments minimize disruptions to trade flows in essential medical supplies. Today, members of the Ottawa Group took important steps toward a proposed WTO Trade and Health Initiative, which identifies short-term actions to strenghten supply chains and ensure the free flow of medicines and medical supplies.’

“Similarly the European Commission press release stated that –

“‘Today the Ottawa Group, a group of 13 like-minded World Trade Organisation (WTO) partners including the EU, agreed today on an initiative, calling on the WTO members to increase their cooperation and work toward enhanced global rules to facilitate trade in essential medical goods. The agreement took place as an outcome of the Ottawa Group Ministerial meeting, hosted virtually by Minister Mary Ng of Canada.

“‘The Ottawa Group members called for immediate actions in response to the coronavirus crisis such as exercising a restraint in using any export restrictions, implementing trade-facilitating measures in the area of customs and services, as well as improving transparency.'”

Needless to say, the reaction from trading partners to the imposition of export controls on vaccines was swift and negative. See, e.g., Financial Times, EU faces global criticism over curbs on vaccine exports, 31 January 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/5c15d7ea-aaf6-46f4-924e-30f168dd14dd (“Brussels faces an international backlash over its new controls on vaccine exports as European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen struggles to quell a firestorm over the EU’s handling of vaccine shortages. Canada and Japan raised concerns over export rules requiring manufacturers to obtain permission before shipping Covid-19 jabs outside the EU. South Korea also warned governments against a grab for more vaccines than they need.”); BBC News, Coronavirus: WHO criticises EU over vaccine export controls, 30 January 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-55860540. Because the EU action seemed largely aimed at discontent with news from the British-Swedish company AstraZeneca’s announcement of a sharp contraction in likely shipments to the EU in the first quarter, the Commission’s initial draft of the implementing regulation had the EU creating problems for the Brexit agreement in terms of inspecting goods flowing from Ireland and Northern Ireland to prevent circumvention of products to the U.K. The EC retreated almost immediately on that front. See, e.g., NPR, EU Reverses Move To Restrict Export Of COVID-19 Vaccines To Northern Ireland, January 30, 2021, https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2021/01/30/962454276/eu-reverses-move-to-restrict-export-of-covid-19-vaccines-to-northern-ireland (“The European Union reversed a brief decision to try to restrict the export of COVID-19 vaccines across the border from Ireland into Northern Ireland. European vaccination campaigns have been struggling as supplies of vaccines on the continent have run low. The decision to invoke an emergency protocol of the Brexit deal was seen as an effort to keep supplies from going from the EU to Britain. But within hours of the decision, which could have put checks on the border between the EU member the Republic of Ireland and British-controlled Northern Ireland, Irish and British officials condemned the move.”).

One concern for the global trading system from the EU action, of course, is retaliatory or mirror actions by trading partners. Such concerns are real. See, e.g., Politico, UK weighs vaccine export restrictions, January 29, 2021, https://www.politico.eu/article/uk-weighs-coronavirus-vaccine-export-restrictions/ (“The U.K. government has sought legal advice on preventing coronavirus vaccines or their ingredients being exported, suggesting that ministers are actively considering countermeasures they could deploy if other countries start restricting cross-border movements of vaccines.”).

The WHO and WTO have been advocating for cooperation among nations and businesses to ensure that all peoples are able to be vaccinated in a timely and cost affordable way. The phrase, “no one is safe until all are safe” typifies the call and is supported by research that indicates global GDP will be seriously restricted if that approach is not followed. See January 27, 2021, Recent WTO report on services trade and January 2021 International Monetary Fund World Economic Outlook Update — the future growth depends on vaccinations of peoples around the world, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/01/27/recent-wto-report-on-services-trade-and-january-2021-international-monetary-fund-world-economic-outlook-update-the-future-growth-depends-on-vaccinations-of-peoples-around-the-world/ (“The WHO’s Director-General references a report from the International Chamber of Commerce Research Foundation. The report and a press release can be accessed here: ICC, The Economic Case for Global Vaccinations, https://iccwbo.org/publication/the-economic-case-for-global-vaccinations/. The press release from the ICC describes the report as follows. ‘A study commissioned by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) Research Foundation has found that the global economy stands to lose as much as US$9.2 trillion if governments fail to ensure developing economy access to COVID-19 vaccines.'”).

The worrying actions by the European Union and the continued struggle to get vaccines to the world’s poorest countries led to a joint statement today by the WTO’s four Deputy Directors-General calling for heightened cooperation to get vaccines to all peoples of the world. WTO press release, WTO DDGs call for heightened cooperation on vaccine availability, 1 February 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/ddgra_01feb21_e.htm. (“‘The pandemic is a global problem. This challenge calls for heightened international cooperation, including ensuring the global availability of vaccines. Recalling the joint statement by the Directors-General of the WHO and WTO on 20 April 2020, we call upon Members to work together towards making vaccines available to all. Moreover, the war against the pandemic can only be won when universal coverage in vaccination is achieved.’”). The press release includes a link to the 20 April 2020 joint statement by the Directors-General of the WHO and WTO (embedded below).

WTO-_-2020-News-items-Heads-of-WTO-WHO-cite-importance-of-open-trade-in-ensuring-flow-of-vital-medical-supplies

As the world enters the month of February, there are 69 countries that report vaccinating at least some people by the end of January. The list, number of vaccinations and number of vaccinations per 100 people are tracked by the Financial Times in its “Covid-19 vaccine tracker: the global race to vaccinate” last updated on February 1, 2021. https://ig.ft.com/coronavirus-vaccine-tracker/. While there are many vaccines in late stage of trials or going through approval processes by the WTO or individual countries, the world is a long way from ensuring equitable access to vaccines at affordable prices at the beginning of February. Hopefully, with production ramp up and more vaccines approved in the coming months, that situation will change by the second quarter of 2021.

Conclusion

While export restraints are not prohibited by the WTO, the world has struggled during the COVID-19 pandemic to keep markets open and ensure availability of medical products to all nations. The EU had early challenges with export restraints that member states were imposing on medical goods including personal protective equipment. However, the EU has attempted to provide leadership in limiting those restraints and supporting the COVAX mechanism for getting vaccines to the poorest countries as well as others participating in the COVAX approach.

The combination of a greater than expected second surge of COVID-19 cases in the fall and the rapid spread of more contagious variants in the last several months has posed significant challenges to many countries but including those within the EU. Some internal challenges and different approaches to vaccine contracting led the EU to sign contracts later and to approve vaccines for use later than some other countries. With manufacturing challenges for a number of suppliers, the EU has found itself in a situation where member states were extremely unhappy with the inability to get more people vaccinated sooner. The European Commission’s efforts to improve its vaccine situation has generated a great deal of negative press, led to the imposition of export restraints that could lead to a significant breakdown in supply chains and potential retaliation by trading partners adversely affected and harms the EU’s efforts to be a leader for global unity in addressing the pandemic.

The WTO Informal Ministerial of January 29, 2021 — hope for progress at the WTO in 2021

Switzerland typically hosts an informal ministerial meeting of WTO trade ministers on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum’s January Davos event. This year both were handled remotely.

The informal ministerial was summarized in ten points by the Swiss Confederation President Guy Parmelin at the end of the event. President Parmelin’s statement is available here, https://www.newsd.admin.ch/newsd/message/attachments/65098.pdf, and is copied below.

Virtual Informal WTO Ministerial Gathering, 29 January 2021

Personal Concluding Remarks by the Chair, President of the Swiss Confederation and Head of the Federal Department for Economic Affairs, Education and Research, Guy Parmelin, Switzerland

“29 Ministers and high officials representing a broad spectrum of the WTO membership attended this year’s Informal World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Gathering in virtual format. In concluding and with warm thanks to all participants for their contributions, I would like to summarise the main points from our discussions as follows:

“• Ministers stressed the urgency of the swift appointment of a new WTO Director-General as well as the confirmation of the date and venue of the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12).

“• Ministers reiterated their determination to maintain a credible multilateral trading system and to restore a climate of mutual trust.

“• Ministers expressed their concerns about the enormous social and economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis. They highlighted the relevance of trade and the role of the WTO in containing the pandemic and promoting recovery. Many Ministers underlined the importance of ensuring the development of as well as an equitable and affordable access to medical goods, including vaccines. They addressed ways and means to achieve these goals, including the implementation of measures facilitating trade, the role of intellectual property and transparency.

“• Ministers regretted that the negotiations on fisheries subsidies could not be completed in accordance with the end-2020 deadline foreseen in SDG 14.6. In light of the significance of this process for the sustainability of global fisheries, Ministers concurred that a comprehensive and effective agreement on fisheries subsidies should be concluded as soon as possible. Ministers agreed to step up efforts with a view to finding mutually acceptable solutions consistent with all the elements of the negotiating mandate.

“• Ministers highlighted the importance of restoring a fully functional WTO dispute settlement system, which is a key pillar of the rules-based multilateral trading system.

“• Many participants argued for further progress in agricultural trade policy reform at MC12 and asked for an outcome on domestic support and other issues. The issues of public stockholding and the special safeguard mechanism were highlighted by several Ministers.

“• Many Ministers called for tangible outcomes, by MC12, on the Joint Statement Initiatives. Inter alia finalizing the process on Services Domestic Regulation and making substantial progress on E-commerce and Investment Facilitation as well as on Trade and Women’s Economic Empowerment.

“• The need to reform the WTO was widely acknowledged. A number of Ministers insisted on advancing diverse issues related to the special and differential treatment of developing and least developed countries. Some participants proposed to adjust WTO rules to present-day economic and competitive conditions.

“• Several Ministers supported new initiatives launched in response to global challenges such as the structured discussions on Trade and Environmental Sustainability.

“• Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to engage in the preparations for MC12 in order to advance key issues.”


The participants at this year’s informal ministerial included officials from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chad (coordinator for LDC Group), Chile, China, Egypt, European Union, India, Indonesia, Jamaica (Coordinator ACP Group), Japan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Korea, Mauritius (Coordinator African Group), Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland (Chair), Thailand, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States and three officials with WTO roles — H.E. Mr. David Walker (New Zealand), WTO General Council Chair; H.E. Mr. Santiago Wills (Colombia), WTO Chair of the Negotiating Group on Rules, H.E. Mr. Alan Wolff, WTO Deputy Director-General. The full list with titles is embedded below.

List-of-participants-at-virtual-informal-ministerial-1-29-2021-65099

The good news for the informal ministerial was the position taken by the United States representative who reportedly indicated that the United States was actively reviewing the issue of the next Director-General and was intent on actively working on WTO reform. See, e.g., Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online, Biden administration strikes ‘constructive’ tone in first word on WTO approach, January 29, 2021, https://insidetrade.com/daily-news/biden-administration-strikes-%E2%80%98constructive%E2%80%99-tone-first-word-wto-approach; Politico, Biden administration joins call for ‘swift appointment’ of new WTO head, January 29, 2021, https://www.politico.com/news/2021/01/29/biden-world-trade-organization-463820. Under the Trump Administration, the United States had blocked the formation of consensus around Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala based on the U.S. view that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala did not have a sufficient trade background. See, e.g., January 26, 2021, Letter from variety of former U.S. officials to President Biden urges U.S. support for Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as next WTO Director General, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/01/26/letter-from-variety-of-former-u-s-officials-to-president-biden-urges-u-s-support-for-dr-ngozi-okonjo-iweala-as-next-wto-director-general/. Hopefully, the current review of the issue by the Biden Administration, even ahead of President Biden’s trade team being confirmed by the U.S. Senate, will result in the U.S. joining the support for Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, permitting the WTO to approve a next Director-General.

It was also reported that the United States, consistent with the Biden Administration’s focus on the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, expressed interest in promoting recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and concluding an ambitious fisheries subsidies agreement. See Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online, Biden administration strikes ‘constructive’ tone in first word on WTO approach, January 29, 2021, https://insidetrade.com/daily-news/biden-administration-strikes-%E2%80%98constructive%E2%80%99-tone-first-word-wto-approach. Fisheries subsidies negotiations have been going on for some twenty years, and many Members have remained more concerned with keeping their subsidies in place than agreeing to disciplines that would create conditions for sustainable fishing going forward. The Interest in the Biden Administration in working within the WTO on joint steps to promote recovery from the pandemic is different from the approach pursued by the Trump Administration which didn’t want to look at actions possible within the WTO (other than limits on export restraints on agricultural goods) while the world was dealing with the pandemic. The U.S. statement should mean more interest in exploring issues like those raised by the Ottawa Group. See November 27, 2020, The Ottawa Group’s November 23 communication and draft elements of a trade and health initiative, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/27/the-ottawa-groups-november-23-communication-and-draft-elements-of-a-trade-and-health-initiative/.

Other issues flagged in the Swiss President’s concluding remarks are issues of particular interest to some or many countries but not topics of clear agreement. For example, while it is likely that the United States will look for ways to resolve its concerns about longstanding problems in the WTO’s dispute settlement system, particularly around the Appellate Body, it is unlikely that there will be a swift resolution of the U.S. concerns, and hence there will likely be a continued impasse for at least much of 2021 on the return of a functioning two-stage dispute settlement system.

Similarly on domestic support in agriculture and other agriculture issues flagged, certain WTO Members have not supported further liberalization in agriculture while pushing for limits on domestic subsidies and rollback of liberalization commitments undertaken in the Uruguay Round. It is unlikely that there will be forward movement on these issues without greater balance in terms of tariff reductions on major agricultural products. Moreover, as noted in a recent post, other major distortions in agriculture that are not presently identified as domestic subsidies include widespread use of child and forced labor on many agricultural products. See January 25, 2021, Child labor and forced labor in cotton production — is there a current WTO mandate to identify and quantify the distortive effects?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/01/25/child-labor-and-forced-labor-in-cotton-production-is-there-a-current-wto-mandate-to-identify-and-quantify-the-distortive-effects/; January 24, 2021, Forced labor and child labor – a continued major distortion in international trade for some products, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/01/24/forced-labor-and-child-labor-a-continued-major-distortion-in-international-trade-for-some-products/. Such practices should be quantified and the level of potential distortion identified so WTO Members can decide how to address them in ongoing agriculture negotiations.

Progress is being made on Joint Statement Initiatives including e-commerce, services domestic regulation, investment facilitation and women’s empowerment. An open issue for these and topics in the sphere of trade and the environment (e.g., environmental goods agreement) is whether benefits provided by participants will be made available on an MFN basis or limited to participants, with the option of other Members to join in the future. See January 18, 2021, Revisiting the need for MFN treatment for sectoral agreements among the willing, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/01/18/revisiting-the-need-for-mfn-treatment-for-sectoral-agreements-among-the-willing/. For many Members liberalization could be speeded up if benefits in sectoral agreements go to those participating only while leaving the door open for other Members to join later when they see the value for them.

And on the important topic of WTO reform beyond the items listed above, there is little current agreement on how to deal with industrial subsidies and other practices that lead to massive global excess capacity, or on how to address access to special and differential treatment and many other areas of importance to some or many WTO Members.

Deputy Director-General Alan Wolff provided a statement during the virtual informal ministerial urging WTO Members to make 2021 a year of accomplishments. The WTO press release can be found here. WTO News, DDG Wolff urges WTO ministers to address the pandemic and make 2021 a year of action, 29 January 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/igo_29jan21_e.htm. DDG Wolff’s statement is copied below.

“My thanks to our Swiss hosts and to President Parmelin both for his remarks today and for his very thoughtful address on the occasion of the 25th anniversary celebration of the WTO last November.

“Ministers, you can make 2021 a year of substantial accomplishments at the WTO.

“There has already been a beginning.  In the first action of the year, Members accounting for most of the world’s agricultural exports committed to refrain from imposing export restrictions on purchases made by the World Food Program.

“The anticipated appointment of a new Director-General will bring needed leadership in moving toward concrete results.  But she can succeed only with your active engagement.

“I urge you not to wait for the Twelfth Ministerial Conference, delayed by the pandemic, to move negotiations forward to positive outcomes. 

“There is no reason why the twenty-year negotiation on fisheries subsidies cannot be concluded successfully — without a sacrifice of ambition — in the next few months.  Success hinges on Members’ willingness to accept a significant level of discipline on their own subsidies.  Political decisions and your active engagement will be required to bring about success.

“I urge you to address ‘trade and health’ forcefully and immediately.  Last year, trade made a vitally important contribution in supplying needed medical supplies to deal with COVID-19.  Proposals as to what more can be done must be deliberated now.  Cooperation on trade can accelerate access to vaccines.  There can be no higher priority.

“Consider how the WTO can further contribute to the economic recovery.  Members can take steps to ensure enhanced transparency, work to eliminate unnecessary barriers and agree that new restrictions will not be imposed.  Trade finance must be restored.  The WTO convened the major international financial organizations and banks to address this need in the aftermath of the financial crisis and it can do so now again.

“’Trade and climate’ must be on the WTO agenda.  Carbon border adjustment measures will likely result in conflicts unless Members engage in joint efforts to find mutually beneficial solutions.  The heightened interest of Members in a broad range of other environmental issues such as plastics pollution and the circular economy can be reflected in new agreements.   The WTO can be more visible as a steward of the planet by reviving and concluding the Environmental Goods Agreement

“The Joint Statement Initiatives on e-commerce, investment facilitation, and services domestic regulation can bear fruit this year, building on what was achieved with respect to small businesses last year.  In addition, more progress can be made on the economic empowerment of women through international trade.  

“Concerns over income inequality have been growing.  The WTO’s rules-based system needs to be seen not only among countries but also within countries, as responsive to the needs of workers, farmers and all who wish to engage in international trade.  But international trade rules cannot substitute for domestic policy actions to make growth more inclusive.  When large numbers of people are unhappy with how the economy is working for them, trade will often receive undeserved blame.  The WTO is about fairness.  Its work will never be done in pursuit of that objective, but further progress can be made this year.

“There can be an outcome on agriculture — at least a down-payment and a defined work program going forward.

“During 2021, the WTO can likely welcome new WTO Members, as it continues to move towards universal coverage.  Comoros and Bosnia-Herzegovina may be ready, and over a dozen others are making progress.

“Last but not least, ‘WTO reform’ can become a reality, with actions taken to —

“- facilitate rule-making with wide participation,

“- achieve heightened enforcement through binding dispute settlement in a manner agreed by all, and

“- provide a strong mandate for a Secretariat to deliver all needed support to Members and to achieving the mission of the WTO. 

“We should greet this year with optimism and re-dedication.  With your strong engagement, 2021 can be a year to remember for what is achieved.

“Thank you.”

A presentation from the WTO Secretariat to Ministers needs to be positive, forward looking, aspirational and inspirational. DDG Wolff’s statement yesterday provides all of that. The first item mentioned, the joint pledge from 79 WTO Members not to restrict agricultural exports to the UN World Food Programme for humanitarian purposes is a positive for the world but follows the December failure of the WTO General Council to agree to the same by all WTO Members. See January 23, 2021, WTO and the World Food Programme – action by 79 Members after a failed December effort at the General Council, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/01/23/wto-and-the-world-food-programme-action-by-79-members-after-a-failed-december-effort-at-the-general-council/.

The challenge for the WTO in 2021 will be whether Members can come together in fact to achieve many of the important opportunities and needs in front of the Membership. While the history of the WTO since 1995 and the major divisions among Members at the present time would strongly suggest that 2021 will not achieve many of the things that are needed and possible, hope springs eternal.

U.S. perspective

The Trump Administration did an excellent job of identifying problems with the operation of the WTO whether from the longstanding failures of the dispute settlement system, to the existential challenges to the viability of the WTO from major Members whose economies have not converged to a full market orientation, to the out-of-date rules around special and differential treatment to all who claim developing country status regardless of economic development of individual members, to the need for greater transparency in many areas, including importantly subsidies, to the failure of the WTO to update rules to address changing technology and trade issues.

The Biden Administration has indicated its intention to work within multilateral institutions, including the WTO. Early action by the United States on the Director-General selection issue could provide positive energy to WTO Members in the coming months. There are topics where success can be made in 2021 either multilaterally or plurilaterally. But a lot of what is needed for meaningful WTO reform will be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve in the short term. Hopefully, the Biden team will stay the course to achieve reform that both returns the WTO playing field to the level agreed at the time of concluding the Uruguay Round, finds ways to deal with the massive distortions not presently covered by WTO rules, works with others to bring the WTO into the 21st century and addresses the critical issues for global prosperity and sustainable development.

Recent WTO report on services trade and January 2021 International Monetary Fund World Economic Outlook Update — the future growth depends on vaccinations of peoples around the world

On January 26, 2021, the WTO put out a press release entitled “Services trade recovery not yet in sight”. https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/serv_26jan21_e.htm. As the press release states,

“Global services trade in the third quarter of 2020 fell 24% compared to the same period in 2019, according to statistics released by the WTO on 26 January. This represents only a small uptick from the 30% year-on-year decline registered in the second quarter, in marked contrast to the much stronger rebound in goods trade.

“Preliminary data further suggest that, in November, services trade was still 16% below 2019 levels. Prospects for recovery remain poor since a second wave of COVID-19 infections necessitated new, stricter lockdown measures in many countries, with tightened restrictions on travel and related services extending into the first quarter of 2021.

“The latest statistics confirm earlier expectations that services trade would be harder hit by the pandemic than goods trade, which was only down 5% year-on-year in the third quarter.  Foregone expenditures on tradeable services could be directed elsewhere, with consumers shifting to goods instead.”

Travel services in the third quarter were down 68% from the third quarter of 2019, a slight improvement from the 2nd quarter (down more than 80%). Transport services were down 24% in the third quarter while other services were down 2%.

As prior posts have reviewed, travel and tourism trade has been destroyed during the pandemic with as many as 100 million people’s jobs at risk. See November 4, 2020, WTO reports a 30% decline in commercial services trade in 2nd quarter of 2020 – travel challenges through September will continue to put downward pressure on commercial services trade, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/04/wto-reports-a-30-decline-in-commercial-services-trade-in-2nd-quarter-of-2020-travel-challenges-through-september-will-continue-to-put-downward-pressure-on-commercial-services-trade/; September 21, 2020, OECD data on services trade and latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer – continued drag of travel and tourism on global trade, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/09/21/oecd-data-on-services-trade-and-latest-unwto-world-tourism-barometer-continued-drag-on-travel-and-tourism-on-global-trade/; September 9, 2020, Making the WTO relevant to businesses and workers – the example of travel and tourism, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/09/09/making-the-wto-relevant-to-businesses-and-workers-the-example-of-travel-and-tourism/; July 1, 2020, COVID-19 — EU move to permit some international trade in addition to intra-EU travel, effects on tourism, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/07/01/covid-19-eu-move-to-permit-some-international-travel-in-addition-to-intra-eu-travel-effects-on-tourism/; May 3, 2020, Update on the collapse of travel and tourism in response to COVID-19, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/05/03/update-on-the-collapse-of-travel-and-tourism-in-response-to-covid-19/; April 30, 2020, The collapse of tourism during the COVID-19 pandemic, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/04/30/the-collapse-of-tourism-during-the-covid-19-pandemic/.

With new lockdowns and travel restrictions occurring in the first quarter of 2021, the travel and tourism sector (including air, hotel, restaurant, entertainment sectors) is in for a continued difficult 2021 (at least the first half for some developed countries depending on vaccination staging).

The WTO press release is embedded below.

WTO-_-2021-News-items-Services-trade-recovery-not-yet-in-sight

In an earlier post, I had reviewed a World Bank forecast that tied economic recovery to the speed and breadth of COVID-19 vaccinations that occur in 2021. See January 5, 2021, Global economic rebound in 2021 will be affected by rate of vaccinations against COVID-19 – World Bank’s January 5, 2021 release of its World Economic Prospects report , https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/01/05/global-economic-rebound-in-2021-will-be-affected-by-rate-of-vaccinations-against-covid-19-world-banks-january-5-2021-release-of-its-world-economic-prospects-report/.

In an update to its World Economic Outlook released earlier this week, the IMF noted that while global economic growth in 2021 and 2022 is expected to be somewhat stronger than previously projected, the level of growth is dependent on vaccine availability and vaccinations and whether there is widespread availability to peoples of the world. See IMF, World Economic Outlook Update, January 2021, https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/WEO/Issues/2021/01/26/2021-world-economic-outlook-update. The header and first three paragraphs of the update are copied below.

Policy Support and Vaccines Expected to Lift Activity

“Although recent vaccine approvals have raised hopes of a turnaround in the pandemic later this year, renewed waves and new variants of the virus pose concerns for the outlook. Amid exceptional uncertainty, the global economy is projected to grow 5.5 percent in 2021 and 4.2 percent in 2022. The 2021 forecast is revised up 0.3 percentage point relative to the previous forecast, reflecting expectations of a vaccine-powered strengthening of activity later in the year and additional policy support in a few large economies.

“The projected growth recovery this year follows a severe collapse in 2020 that has had acute adverse impacts on women, youth, the poor, the informally employed, and those who work in contact-intensive sectors. The global growth contraction for 2020 is estimated at -3.5 percent, 0.9 percentage point higher than projected in the previous forecast (reflecting stronger-than-expected momentum in the second half of 2020).

“The strength of the recovery is projected to vary significantly across countries, depending on access to medical interventions, effectiveness of policy support, exposure to cross-country spillovers, and structural characteristics entering the crisis.”

On the IMF webpage for the update there is a colored chart showing projected growth for certain groupings of countries. The Chart is embedded below.

growth-projections-weoupdate-jan21-eng

From press reports it is known that the rollout of vaccines has hit some early snags with both Pfizer/BioNTech and AstraZenaca announcing reduced shipments to some countries. BBC News, Coronavirus: Vaccine supply fears grow amid EU export threat, 26 January 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-55805903#:~:text=The%20EU%20has%20warned%20Covid,cannot%20supply%20the%20expected%20numbers. Indeed, the EU is considering steps to monitor and/or restrict exports of vaccines depending on fulfillment of contracts with the EU and member states, raising concerns about vaccine nationalism. NBC News, E.U. threatens to restrict exports of Covid vaccines amid rollout anger, January 26, 2021, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/eu-threatens-restrict-exports-covid-19-vaccines-amid-rollout-anger-n1255636.

Similarly, new variants that are apparently more contagious and possibly more deadly are spreading resulting in heightened travel restrictions which will retard any recovery in the travel and tourism sector. Washington Post, Coronavirus updates: As variants spread, countries pursue new round of travel restrictions, January 26, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2021/01/26/coronavirus-covid-updates/. There are also concerns about whether initial vaccines will be effective against the new variants. New York Times, As Virus Grows Stealthier, Vaccine Makers Reconsider Battle Plans, January 25, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/25/health/coronavirus-moderna-vaccine-variant.html.

At the same time, Africa which had recorded relatively few cases and deaths from COVID-19 for much of 2020 is now experiencing significant increases in both which is overwhelming health systems in some areas. Financial Times, Coronavirus second wave surges across Africa, Mildly hit the first time round, the continent’s death rate has now overtaken the global average, 17 January 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/3d000093-87a3-48f3-8bb5-4ad9a8316aa1

The COVAX facility designed to help many countries (including many poor countries) access vaccines has a significant funding shortfall at present despite the U.S. rescinding its notice of withdrawal from the WHO and its agreement to participate in COVAX. Reuters, U.S. alone won’t fill COVAX funding gap, lead official says, January 22, 2021,https://news.trust.org/item/20210122130041-jr1j3. The Secretary-General of the World Health Organization has expressed concern that the world will fail to make vaccines available to all at affordable prices in a timely manner. WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Debate on the report “COVID-19 vaccines: ethical, legal and practical considerations,” 27 January 2021, https://www.who.int/director-general/speeches/detail/debate-on-the-report-covid-19-vaccines-ethical-legal-and-practical-considerations. The WHO Director-General’s speech is embedded below.

Debate-on-the-report-COVID-19-vaccines_-ethical-legal-and-practical-considerations

The WHO’s Director-General references a report from the International Chamber of Commerce Research Foundation. The report and a press release can be accessed here: ICC, The Economic Case for Global Vaccinations, https://iccwbo.org/publication/the-economic-case-for-global-vaccinations/. The press release from the ICC describes the report as follows.

“A study commissioned by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) Research Foundation has found that the global economy stands to lose as much as US$9.2 trillion if governments fail to ensure developing economy access to COVID-19 vaccines

“The COVID-19 pandemic had a devastating effect on both lives and livelihoods in 2020. The arrival of effective vaccines can be a major game changer in mitigating the economic, social and health consequences of the virus in the year ahead.

“However, evidence to date suggests that access to these vaccines is likely to be highly uneven across countries. Advanced economies have in recent months pursued a policy of securing the global supply of frontrunner vaccines – as a result severely limiting their availability in emerging markets. Moreover, the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator – the proven global platform to enable equitable access to COVID-19 test, treatments and vaccines – remains underfunded by the world’s largest economies, constraining its ability to procure vaccines at scale for the developing world.

“A new study highlights the major risks to the global economy inherent in this uncoordinated approach to vaccine access. Using a sophisticated model – that builds upon an earlier NBER and IMF Working Paper – to properly the assess the economic toll of a prolonged pandemic, the research shows that no economy can recover fully from the COVID-19 pandemic until vaccines are equally accessible in all countries.

“In short, advanced economies that can vaccinate all of their citizens are shown to remain at risk of a sluggish recovery with a drag on GDP if infection continues to spread unabated in emerging markets. These losses dwarf the donor finance needed to enable vaccines to be procured for everyone, everywhere – making a clear ‘investment case’ for full capitalization of the ACT Accelerator and a coordinated global approach to distribution.”

Conclusion

While the recent releases from the WTO and IMF show somewhat better rebounds from the effects of the pandemic in the third quarter of 2020 (WTO) and into 2021 and 2022 (IMF), the key to global recovery lies in the approval of effective vaccines and the equitable and affordable distribution and vaccinations of populations around the world. Major advanced economies, many suffering from high infection and death rates in 2020, are using their financial muscle to secure contracts to deal with getting the pandemic under control within their borders. While there has been extensive work to create a mechanism to get vaccines to other countries in 2021 and 2022, there remain funding needs and questions about whether vaccines will in fact be available for use for these other countries. A lot depends on the efforts to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines to all those in need. There is a large opportunity for governments, businesses, and private organizations and citizens to help fill the gap. Because the failure to do so carries a likely huge cost, making sure funds are available to get the world vaccinated is in everyone’s interest. The outcome will determine global growth rates and trade flows for the coming years.

The Biden Administration’s efforts to rein in the COVID-19 pandemic start as global new cases tops ten million over the last two weeks for the first time

January 20, 2021 saw the inauguration of Joseph R. Biden, Jr. as the 46th President of the United States and Kamala D. Harris as the new Vice President. The top priority for the new Administration is addressing the COVID-19 pandemic with a focus on ramping up vaccinations across the country with a goal of 100 million additional vaccination shots in the first 100 days of the new Administration. The new Administration comes into office as the global pandemic records its worst two weeks and records more than ten million confirmed new cases in the last fourteen days (through January 16). See European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, COVID-19 situation update worldwide, as of week 2 2021, https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/geographical-distribution-2019-ncov-cases (total global cases 94.6 million, total deaths 2.037 million, new cases last 14 days 10.052 million). Deaths in the U.S. by January 21st have topped 416,000 and total new cases in the U.S. are over 25 million. https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/us/. The number of doses of vaccines distributed in the U.S. was 35.99 million on January 20 with 16.524 million vaccinations provided. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/index.html

In a busy first half day as President, President Biden signed seventeen Executive Orders, memoranda and other documents including rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement and notified UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutterres that the United States would remain a member of the World Health Organization. The January 20 letter to Secretary-General Gutteres is copied below and can be found here: https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/01/20/letter-his-excellency-antonio-guterres/.

The Executive Order signed by President Biden is titled “Executive Order on Organizing and Mobilizing the United States Government to Provide a Unified and Effective Response to Combat COVID-19 and to Provide United States Leadership on Global Health and Security” and can be found here: https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/01/20/executive-order-organizing-and-mobilizing-united-states-government-to-provide-unified-and-effective-response-to-combat-covid-19-and-to-provide-united-states-leadership-on-global-health-and-security/. The purpose of the order is laid out in Section 1.

Section 1.  Purpose.  The Federal Government must act swiftly and aggressively to combat coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).  To that end, this order creates the position of Coordinator of the COVID-19 Response and Counselor to the President and takes other steps to organize the White House and activities of the Federal Government to combat COVID-19 and prepare for future biological and pandemic threats. “

The other four sections of the Executive Order deal with “Organizing the White House to Combat COVID-19” (Section 2), “United States Leadership on Global Health and Security and the Global Health and Security and the Global COVID-19 Response” (Section 3), “Prompt Resolution of Issues Related to the United States COVID-19 Response” (Section 4) and general provisions (Section 5). Section 2 includes efforts by the Federal Government to beef up production and distribution of “personal protective equipment, vaccines, tests and other supplies” including through use of the Defense Production Act. Section 3 includes efforts to engage with and strengthen the World Health Organization.

The text of the Executive Order is reproduced below (quotation marks are not added).

Executive Order on Organizing and Mobilizing the United States Government to Provide a Unified and Effective Response to Combat COVID-19 and to Provide United States Leadership on Global Health and Security

January 20, 2021

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, it is hereby ordered as follows:  

Section 1.  Purpose.  The Federal Government must act swiftly and aggressively to combat coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).  To that end, this order creates the position of Coordinator of the COVID-19 Response and Counselor to the President and takes other steps to organize the White House and activities of the Federal Government to combat COVID-19 and prepare for future biological and pandemic threats. 

Sec. 2.  Organizing the White House to Combat COVID-19.  (a)  In order to effectively, fully, and immediately respond to COVID-19, there is established within the Executive Office of the President the position of Coordinator of the COVID-19 Response and Counselor to the President (COVID-19 Response Coordinator) and the position of Deputy Coordinator of the COVID-19 Response.  The COVID-19 Response Coordinator shall report directly to the President; advise and assist the President and executive departments and agencies (agencies) in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic; coordinate all elements of the COVID-19 response; and perform such duties as the President may otherwise direct.  These duties shall include:  

(i)    coordinating a Government-wide effort to reduce disparities in the response, care, and treatment of COVID-19, including racial and ethnic disparities;

(ii)   coordinating the Federal Government’s efforts to produce, supply, and distribute personal protective equipment, vaccines, tests, and other supplies for the Nation’s COVID-19 response, including through the use of the Defense Production Act, as amended (50 U.S.C. 4501 et seq.);

(iii)  coordinating the Federal Government’s efforts to expand COVID-19 testing and the use of testing as an effective public health response;

(iv)   coordinating the Federal Government’s efforts to support the timely, safe, and effective delivery of COVID-19 vaccines to the United States population;

(v)    coordinating the Federal Government’s efforts to support the safe reopening and operation of schools, child care providers, and Head Start programs, and to help ensure the continuity of educational and other services for young children and elementary and secondary students during the COVID-19 pandemic; and

(vi)   coordinating, as appropriate, with State, local, Tribal, and territorial authorities.

(b)  The COVID-19 Response Coordinator shall have the authority to convene principals from relevant agencies, in consultation with the Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy (APDP) on matters involving the domestic COVID-19 response, and in consultation with the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs (APNSA) on matters involving the global COVID-19 response.  The COVID-19 Response Coordinator shall also coordinate any corresponding deputies and interagency processes.

(c)  The COVID-19 Response Coordinator may act through designees in performing these or any other duties.

Sec. 3.  United States Leadership on Global Health and Security and the Global COVID-19 Response. (a)  Preparing to Respond to Biological Threats and Pandemics.  To identify, monitor, prepare for, and, if necessary, respond to emerging biological and pandemic threats: 

(i)   The APNSA shall convene the National Security Council (NSC) Principals Committee as necessary to coordinate the Federal Government’s efforts to address such threats and to advise the President on the global response to and recovery from COVID-19, including matters regarding:  the intersection of the COVID-19 response and other national security equities; global health security; engaging with and strengthening the World Health Organization; public health, access to healthcare, and the secondary impacts of COVID-19; and emerging biological risks and threats, whether naturally occurring, deliberate, or accidental. 

(ii)  Within 180 days of the date of this order, the APNSA shall, in coordination with relevant agencies, the COVID-19 Response Coordinator, and the APDP, complete a review of and recommend actions to the President concerning emerging domestic and global biological risks and national biopreparedness policies.  The review and recommended actions shall incorporate lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic and, among other things, address:  the readiness of the pandemic supply chain, healthcare workforce, and hospitals; the development of a framework of pandemic readiness with specific triggers for when agencies should take action in response to large-scale biological events; pandemic border readiness; the development and distribution of medical countermeasures; epidemic forecasting and modeling; public health data modernization; bio-related intelligence; bioeconomic investments; biotechnology risks; the development of a framework for coordinating with and distributing responsibilities as between the Federal Government and State, local, Tribal, and territorial authorities; and State, local, Tribal, and territorial preparedness for biological events. 

(b)  NSC Directorate on Global Health Security and Biodefense.  There shall be an NSC Directorate on Global Health Security and Biodefense, which shall be headed by a Senior Director for Global Health Security and Biodefense.  The Senior Director shall be responsible for monitoring current and emerging biological threats, and shall report concurrently to the APNSA and to the COVID-19 Response Coordinator on matters relating to COVID-19.  The Senior Director shall oversee the Global Health Security Agenda Interagency Review Council, which was established pursuant to Executive Order 13747 of November 4, 2016 (Advancing the Global Health Security Agenda To Achieve a World Safe and Secure From Infectious Disease Threats), and is hereby reconvened as described in that order.

(c)  Responsibility for National Biodefense Preparedness.  Notwithstanding any statements in the National Security Presidential Memorandum-14 of September 18, 2018 (Support for National Biodefense), the APNSA shall be responsible for coordinating the Nation’s biodefense preparedness efforts, and, as stated in sections 1 and 2 of this order, the COVID-19 Response Coordinator shall be responsible for coordinating the Federal Government’s response to the COVID‑19 pandemic.

Sec. 4.  Prompt Resolution of Issues Related to the United States COVID-19 Response.  The heads of agencies shall, as soon as practicable, bring any procedural, departmental, legal, or funding obstacle to the COVID-19 response to the attention of the COVID-19 Response Coordinator.  The COVID-19 Response Coordinator shall, in coordination with relevant agencies, the APDP, and the APNSA, as appropriate, immediately bring to the President’s attention any issues that require Presidential guidance or decision-making.

Sec. 5.  General Provisions.  (a)  Nothing in this order shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect: 

(i)   the authority granted by law to an executive department or agency, or the head thereof; or

(ii)  the functions of the Director of the Office of Management and Budget relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative proposals.

(b)  This order shall be implemented consistent with applicable law and subject to availability of appropriations.

(c)  This order is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.

JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR. 

On the White House webpage, there is a section on the Biden Administration’s priorities. The section on COVID-19 provides explanation of the actions perceived to be needed, including increased production of personal protective equipment and additional funding to help with vaccinations, keeping schools open and help state and local governments cope with the revenue shortfalls from the pandemic. See White House Priorities,COVID-19, The Biden-Harris plan to beat COVID-19, https://www.whitehouse.gov/priorities/covid-19//. The COVID-19 priority description is copied below.

“The American people deserve an urgent, robust, and professional response to the growing public health and economic crisis caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. President Biden believes that the federal government must act swiftly and aggressively to help protect and support our families, small businesses, first responders, and caregivers essential to help us face this challenge, those who are most vulnerable to health and economic impacts, and our broader communities – not to blame others or bail out corporations.

“The Biden-Harris administration will always:

Listen to science

Ensure public health decisions are informed by public health professionals

Promote trust, transparency, common purpose, and accountability in our government

“President Biden and Vice President Harris have a seven-point plan to beat COVID-19.

Ensure all Americans have access to regular, reliable, and free testing.

“Double the number of drive-through testing sites.

“Invest in next-generation testing, including at home tests and instant tests, so we can scale up our testing capacity by orders of magnitude.

“Stand up a Pandemic Testing Board like Roosevelt’s War Production Board. It’s how we produced tanks, planes, uniforms, and supplies in record time, and it’s how we will produce and distribute tens of millions of tests.

“Establish a U.S. Public Health Jobs Corps to mobilize at least 100,000 Americans across the country with support from trusted local organizations in communities most at risk to perform culturally competent approaches to contact tracing and protecting at-risk populations.

Fix personal protective equipment (PPE) problems for good.

“President Biden is taking responsibility and giving states, cities, tribes, and territories the critical supplies they need.

“Fully use the Defense Production Act to ramp up production of masks, face shields, and other PPE so that the national supply of personal protective equipment exceeds demand and our stores and stockpiles — especially in hard-hit areas that serve disproportionately vulnerable populations — are fully replenished.

“Build immediately toward a future, flexible American-sourced and manufactured capability to ensure we are not dependent on other countries in a crisis.

“Provide clear, consistent, evidence-based guidance for how communities should navigate the pandemic – and the resources for schools, small businesses, and families to make it through.

“Social distancing is not a light switch. It is a dial. President Biden will direct the CDC to provide specific evidence-based guidance for how to turn the dial up or down relative to the level of risk and degree of viral spread in a community, including when to open or close certain businesses, bars, restaurants, and other spaces; when to open or close schools, and what steps they need to take to make classrooms and facilities safe; appropriate restrictions on size of gatherings; when to issue stay-at-home restrictions.

“Establish a renewable fund for state and local governments to help prevent budget shortfalls, which may cause states to face steep cuts to teachers and first responders.

“Call on Congress to pass an emergency package to ensure schools have the additional resources they need to adapt effectively to COVID-19.

“Provide a ‘restart package’ that helps small businesses cover the costs of operating safely, including things like plexiglass and PPE.

“’THIS ISN’T ABOUT POLITICS. IT’S ABOUT SAVING LIVES.’

“PRESIDENT BIDEN, SEPTEMBER 16, 2020

Plan for the effective, equitable distribution of treatments and vaccines — because development isn’t enough if they aren’t effectively distributed.

“Invest $25 billion in a vaccine manufacturing and distribution plan that will guarantee it gets to every American, cost-free.

“Ensure that politics plays no role in determining the safety and efficacy of any vaccine. The following 3 principles will guide the Biden-Harris administration: Put scientists in charge of all decisions on safety and efficacy; publicly release clinical data for any vaccine the FDA approves; and authorize career staff to write a written report for public review and permit them to appear before Congress and speak publicly uncensored.

“Ensure everyone — not just the wealthy and well-connected — in America receives the protection and care they deserve, and consumers are not price gouged as new drugs and therapies come to market.

Protect older Americans and others at high risk.

“President Biden understands that older Americans and others at high-risk are most vulnerable to COVID-19.

“Establish a COVID-19 Racial and Ethnic Disparities Task Force, as proposed by Vice President Harris, to provide recommendations and oversight on disparities in the public health and economic response. At the end of this health crisis, it will transition to a permanent Infectious Disease Racial Disparities Task Force.

“Create the Nationwide Pandemic Dashboard that Americans can check in real-time to help them gauge whether local transmission is actively occurring in their zip codes. This information is critical to helping all individuals, but especially older Americans and others at high risk, understand what level of precaution to take.

Rebuild and expand defenses to predict, prevent, and mitigate pandemic threats, including those coming from China.

“Immediately restore the White House National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense, originally established by the Obama-Biden administration.

“Immediately restore our relationship with the World Health Organization, which — while not perfect — is essential to coordinating a global response during a pandemic.

“Re-launch and strengthen U.S. Agency for International Development’s pathogen-tracking program called PREDICT.

“Expand the number of CDC’s deployed disease detectives so we have eyes and ears on the ground, including rebuilding the office in Beijing.

“Implement mask mandates nationwide by working with governors and mayors and by asking the American people to do what they do best: step up in a time of crisis.

“Experts agree that tens of thousands of lives can be saved if Americans wear masks. President Biden will continue to call on:

“Every American to wear a mask when they are around people outside their household.

“Every Governor to make that mandatory in their state.

“Local authorities to also make it mandatory to buttress their state orders.

“Once we succeed in getting beyond this pandemic, we must ensure that the millions of Americans who suffer long-term side effects from COVID don’t face higher premiums or denial of health insurance because of this new pre-existing condition. The Biden-Harris Administration will work to ensure that the protections for those with pre-existing conditions that were won with Obamacare are protected. And, they will work to lower health care costs and expand access to quality, affordable health care through a Medicare-like public option.”

Comments

While significant parts of the full-throated Biden plan to address the COVID-19 pandemic will require Congressional action on a stimulus package ($1.9 trillion is what is being sought by the Biden team), there are clear areas of action that will take place including increased use of the Defense Production Act to ensure adequate supplies of PPEs to address the needs of all communities in the United States. The U.S. will now have a national plan for both reducing the spread of the virus and for expanding the ability to achieve the desired level of vaccinations. The U.S. will work with the WHO and other members to make the WHO more effective and will participate in COVAX to help ensure vaccine availability for all peoples. The U.S. will also reinstate the efforts to improve detecting and tracking viruses around the world and developing a better prevention and response effort.

Without Congressional action on a significant stimulus package in the coming weeks, the U.S. economy will likely suffer significant contraction as employment levels, already at levels depressed from those when President Trump took office in 2017, will continue to worsen, millions of Americans will be forced from homes and apartments, and tens of thousands of additional business will fold. The Biden plan offers hope that a national plan with cooperation from the states will lead to a curbing of the pandemic and hopefully by the third or fourth quarter of 2021, a return to a more normal state of life for Americans. With the tremendous contraction in some sectors of the U.S. and global economies (e.g., tourism), the Biden plan offers hope of revival as the year progresses.

U.S. engagement with the WHO and participation in COVAX will help improve the global ability to respond to the pandemic in particular by improving the likelihood that vaccines will be available to peoples in all countries as the year progresses.

While economists generally don’t support the concept of onshoring production of particular products, the use of the Defense Production Act to expand production of PPEs that are or are likely to be in short supply will expand global supplies which should be of assistance to other countries as well as the U.S. as the global surge of cases continues.

Nothing in the first day’s activities by the Biden Administration was directly aimed at the World Trade Organization or trade relations. However, the intent of the Biden Administration to work with allies and within multilateral organizations and treaties — as seen in the rejoining of the Paris Climate Agreements and retraction of the notice of withdrawal from the WHO — suggest that the Biden team will be looking for ways to strengthen the WTO while addressing core U.S. concerns.

Continued surge of COVID-19 cases results in extended restrictions in many countries affecting trade and economic growth

The latest data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) show the global growth in new cases and deaths accelerating in many parts of the world with resulting extensions of restrictions on activities which harms international trade and global economic growth prospects. The control of the outbreak of new cases is being complicated by new strains in the U.K., South Africa and elsewhere that are proving to be more easily spread than initial strains and rapidly spreading around the world.

Specifically, the ECDC in a report released on January 14 covering data through the first week of 2021 (assumed to be through January 6), shows the last two weeks as generating 9,487,913 new reported cases of COVID-19 — the first time, more than nine million new cases has been found in a two week period. Data on global cases to this morning (January 15) show total global cases at 93.2 million with deaths at 2 million. These are up from the 89.8 million cases through the first week of 2021 and 1.94 million deaths. The world is likely to top 100 million COVID cases by the end of January.

The United States had its worst two weeks — 3,271,355 new cases (34.48% of global new cases) and 41,116 deaths (24.07% of last week global) — and its totals since the beginning of 2020 at 22.4 million cases and 374,442 deaths (24.97% and 19.30% of global totals) dwarf its 4.3% of global population.

Many countries in Europe are continuing to struggle with new cases and deaths and hence have extended restrictions. So, for example, the United Kingdom, has had the largest number of new cases in the last two weeks(742,619) it has ever recorded and the highest number of deaths since spring in the last two weeks (10,322). The result has been continued tightening of restrictions within the United Kingdom. See, e.g., BBC, Covid-19: UK daily deaths at record high and Scotland rules tightened, January 14, 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-55652431; BBC, Covid: What are the lockdown rules across the UK?, January 13, 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/explainers-52530518.

In Italy, following a second surge in the fall, restrictions helped lower the number of new cases and deaths but there have been upward trends in new cases in recent weeks with potential increases in deaths likely, leading to the introduction of some new restrictions. See, e.g., The Local, Italy declares three regions red zones as restrictions tighten, January 15, 2021, https://www.thelocal.it/20210115/italy-declares-three-regions-red-zones-as-restrictions-tighten.

Other countries in Europe are also seeing rising cases after drops in cases and deaths following introduction of restrictions and are often imposing or maintaining restrictions to address recent increases. See, e.g., The Local, French government extends 6pm curfew to whole country as Covid cases rise, January 14, 2021 (updated January 15), https://www.thelocal.fr/20210114/latest-french-government-to-announce-extra-restrictions-as-covid-cases-rise; France 24, France introduces tougher Covid-19 restrictions for non-EU travellers, January 15, 2021, https://www.france24.com/en/france/20210115-france-introduces-tougher-covid-19-restrictions-for-non-eu-travellers; DW, Coronavirus: German Chancellor Angela Merkel urges ‘significantly’ tougher curbs — reports, January 15, 2021, https://www.dw.com/en/coronavirus-german-chancellor-angela-merkel-urges-significantly-tougher-curbs-reports/a-56230751; El Pais, Spain reports 35,878 new coronavirus infections and 201 deaths, as third wave progresses, January 15, 2021, https://english.elpais.com/society/2021-01-15/spain-reports-35878-new-coronavirus-infections-and-201-deaths-as-third-wave-progresses.html (“Simón is taking for granted that the epidemiological curve will continue to rise for several more days, but he is hoping that the more restrictive measures that have been put in place after the Christmas holidays will put the brakes on the rhythm of infections.”).

Even in parts of Asia where there have been relatively few COVID-19 cases, recent increases have led to restrictions imposed in particular areas. See, e.g., NPR, Millions In China Under New Restrictions Amid COVID-19 Spike Near Beijing, January 9, 2021, https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2021/01/09/955298826/millions-in-china-under-new-restrictions-amid-covid-19-spike-near-beijing; the Japan Times, Japan bars entry for new arrivals and business travelers due to new COVID-19 strains, January 14, 2021, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/01/14/national/japan-bars-new-arrivals-business-travelers/; japan-guide.com, Travel Alerts and Disaster Updates, updated January 15, 2021, https://www.japan-guide.com/news/alerts.html (“Domestic Situation Although the virus has not spread in Japan at a rate seen in Europe and North America, infection numbers have increased considerably in recent weeks, and a state of
emergency was declared in 11 of Japan’s 47 prefectures, including in the greater Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and Fukuoka regions, to last until February 7.”); NPR, South Korea Tightens Restrictions During Holiday Period, December 22, 2020, https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/12/22/949155094/south-korea-tightens-restrictions-during-holiday-period (“The new measures, which will be in effect through Jan. 3, follow the capital Seoul’s ban earlier in the week on private assembly of five or more people. The capital area, which accounts for more than 70% of last week’s new infections in South Korea, upped the regional alert level three times in the past month. But case numbers have yet to demonstrate a downward trend.”).

In India, where the government has worked hard to bring down the number of new cases in recent months and has had some significant success, many restrictions remain in place. See GardaWorld, India: Authorities extend domestic coronavirus disease controls through Jan. 31, 2021; international travel restrictions continue, December 29, 2020, https://www.garda.com/crisis24/news-alerts/422756/india-authorities-extend-domestic-coronavirus-disease-controls-through-jan-31-2021-international-travel-restrictions-continue-update-33.

Some governments have reduced economic recovery projections for 2021 because of the second wave of cases in the fall of 2020. See, e.g., Euronews, What does 2021 hold for jobs and businesses in Europe?, December 16, 2020, https://www.euronews.com/2020/12/16/what-does-2021-hold-for-jobs-and-businesses-in-europe (“The second wave of lockdowns devastated businesses across Europe and led the European Commission to downgrade its economic growth forecast for 2021 for the Eurozone from 6.1% down to 4.2%. It’s expected to be two years until the European economy comes close to its pre-pandemic level.”).

While other government 2021 projections show greater growth than was projected in the fall of 2020, the rebound is built on assumptions about stimulus funding, timing and effectiveness of vaccines and other elements. See, e.g., CNBC, Fed raises its economic outlook slightly, sees 4.2% growth next year and 5% unemployment rate, December 16, 2020, https://www.cnbc.com/2020/12/16/fed-raises-its-economic-outlook-slightly-sees-4point2percent-growth-next-year-and-5percent-unemployment-rate.html#:~:text=The%20Federal%20Reserve%20expects%20real,to%204.2%25%20from%204.0%25; The Conference Board, The Conference Board Economic Forecast for the US Economy, January 13, 2021, https://www.conference-board.org/research/us-forecast (“Our base case forecast yields 1Q21 real GDP growth of 2.0 percent* (annualized rate), and an annual expansion of 4.1 percent for 2021, following an annual contraction of 3.5 percent for 2020. We view this scenario as the most probable. It assumes: a) new cases of COVID-19 peak in early 1Q21 but no widespread lockdowns are implemented, b) vaccines are deployed gradually in 1Q21 but volumes accelerate into 2Q21, c) the December 2020 stimulus package is fully deployed in 1Q21 and an additional stimulus package is deployed in 2Q21, d) labor markets and consumption weaken slightly in 1Q21 but rebound in 2Q21 and 3Q21, and e) the political transition does not result in a hit to consumer or business confidence. These assumptions yield a lull in the recovery in 4Q20 and early 1Q21, but a steady acceleration of economic activity that peaks in the summer months as consumers eagerly spend on services and goods that they had forgone in 2020. In this scenario US monthly economic output returns to pre-pandemic levels in August 2021.”).

Growing concern over new strains of the COVID-19 and mounting new cases will be putting strain on many governments and keeping downward pressure on trade in services which the WTO has estimated as being down 30% globally in 2020. Travel and tourism have been decimated in 2020 and will continue to face major hurdles for at least the first half of 2021. International arrivals are down 70% for the year and more than 90% for the period since April 2020. See UNWTO, TOURISM BACK TO 1990 LEVELS AS ARRIVALS FALL BY MORE THAN 70%, 17 December 2020, https://www.unwto.org/news/tourism-back-to-1990-levels-as-arrivals-fall-by-more-than-70.

In the EU, a $2.1 trillion budget and coronavirus recovery package has been approved. See KFF, E.U. Leaders Agree To $2.1T Budget, Pandemic Recovery Fund; Main Science Research Program Receives Less Than Expected, Jul 21, 2020, https://www.kff.org/news-summary/e-u-leaders-agree-to-2-1t-budget-pandemic-recovery-fund-main-science-research-program-receives-less-than-expected/; Politico, EU leaders back deal to end budget blockade by Hungary and Poland, December 10, 2020, https://www.politico.eu/article/deal-reached-to-unblock-eu-budget-and-recovery-fund/.

In the United States, the recent $900 billion stimulus package was viewed as a temporary measure that would need to be supplemented in 2021. President-elect Biden announced on January 14, 2021 that he will be seeking a $1.9 trillion additional stimulus package to address the human costs of the pandemic, provide funding for people and businesses, strengthen efforts at vaccine distribution and vaccinations and other purposes. See, e.g., New York Times, Biden Outlines $1.9 Trillion Spending Package to Combat Virus and Downturn, January 14, 2021 (updated January 15), https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/14/business/economy/biden-economy.html.

The stimulus packages by the EU (and member governments) and U.S. and other countries have kept demand higher than would otherwise have been possible but at the cost of significant increases in national debt which will reduce national flexibilities in later years.

In prior posts, I pointed out that the vaccine rollout, while promising, was facing a series of problems both at producers and in the ability of many governments to ramp up vaccinations. Moreover, the rapidity of the global economic rebound would depend on the speed of global vaccinations. See January 3, 2021, 2021 – how quickly will COVID-19 vaccines bring the pandemic under control?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/01/03/2021-how-quickly-will-covid-19-vaccines-bring-the-pandemic-under-control/; January 5, 2021,  Global economic rebound in 2021 will be affected by rate of vaccinations against COVID-19 – World Bank’s January 5, 2021 release of its World Economic Prospects report, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/01/05/global-economic-rebound-in-2021-will-be-affected-by-rate-of-vaccinations-against-covid-19-world-banks-january-5-2021-release-of-its-world-economic-prospects-report/.

There is also the question of whether variants of COVID-19 will be treatable as effectively by the currently approved vaccines. See, e.g., National Geographic, Existing vaccines should work against new coronavirus variants for now, January 15, 2021, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2021/01/existing-vaccines-should-work-against-new-coronavirus-variants-for-now/; VOX, How the new Covid-19 variants could pose a threat to vaccination, January 7, 2021, https://www.vox.com/22213033/covid-19-mutation-variant-vaccine-uk-south-africa.

There continue to be problems with the rate of vaccinations in many countries who have access to vaccines although all governments area working on ways to speed up the vaccination process. There are also problems in terms of the ramp up of production and the slower than expected approval of some vaccines. See, e.g., Politico, Germans vexed as coronavirus vaccine rollout lags, January 12, 2021, https://www.politico.eu/article/coronavirus-story-kiel/; Politico, France rejects criticism of EU coronavirus vaccine procurement, January 10, 2021, ; Financial Times, Pfizer to limit vaccine deliveries temporarily to Europe, January 15, 2021,https://www.ft.com/content/e8177df6-04ae-4d20-8e62-ca76589c7653?desktop=true&segmentId=d8d3e364-5197-20eb-17cf-2437841d178a; BBC News, Coronavirus: Dutch shocked to be EU vaccination stragglers, January 6, 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-55549656; USA Today, Tracking COVID-19 vaccine distribution by state: How many people in the US have received a shot?, January 14, 2021, https://www.usatoday.com/in-depth/graphics/2021/01/14/covid-vaccine-distribution-by-state-how-many-covid-vaccines-have-been-given-in-us-how-many-people/6599531002/ (“About 63.6% of the vaccines distributed haven’t been used yet.”).

Finally, while 49 countries have started to vaccinate their populations according to a recent article from Politico, the largest number of countries continue to wait for vaccines which will be helped when more vaccines are approved. See, e.g., Politico, Coronavirus vaccination in Europe — by the numbers, January 11, 2021, https://www.politico.eu/article/coronavirus-vaccination-europe-by-the-numbers/.

Conclusion

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage globally and is becoming more concerning because of faster spreading variants that are showing up around the world. Since many western countries continue to have very high numbers of new cases, hospitalizations and deaths, enormous pressure is on governments to get effective vaccines in large quantities as quickly as possible and get their populations vaccinated. Many countries with access to vaccines are having early problems in ramping up vaccinations. Some of the approved vaccinations are struggling with the production ramp up and being pressed to provide more volumes of vaccines in the absence of alternative vaccines from other producers. The main vaccines intended for broad distribution to many developing and least developed countries are either just starting to receive approvals for distribution or are still working through final trials. In a world quickly approaching 100 million reported cases and more than 2 million deaths and having suffered significant economic dislocations with services trade down an estimated 30 percent, with as many as 100 million people pushed into poverty, and 100-120 million people in the tourism sector having lost jobs, a global solution cannot occur soon enough. While 2021 will show significant improvements for many countries, the continuing challenges from COVID-19 will be with the world community for the foreseeable future.

Global economic rebound in 2021 will be affected by rate of vaccinations against COVID-19 — World Bank’s January 5, 2021 release of its World Economic Prospects report

The last forecast by the WTO for international merchandise trade for 2020 projected a decline of 9.2% for the world reflecting significant improvements in the 3rd quarter of 2020 after the sharp contraction in the second quarter. Services trade is trailing merchandise trade significantly as is reflected in the WTO ‘s December 4, 2020 press release, Electronics and automotive products lift global merchandise trade in Q3, services lag behind, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/stat_04dec20_e.htm. Two charts from the press release show data through the third quarter of 2020 for goods and services and are copied below.

The expected continued rebound in the fourth quarter of 2020 has likely been reduced in size by the large increase in COVID-19 cases in many countries, including the European Union, United Kingdom, the United States and some countries in Asia and reintroduction of restrictions on people in those countries, resulting in downward pressure on domestic consumption (and hence trade flows in both goods and services).

There is significant optimism about economic growth in 2021 in light of the progress on approval and production of COVID-19 vaccines. See my post from January 3, 2021, 2021 – how quickly will COVID-19 vaccines bring the pandemic under control?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/01/03/2021-how-quickly-will-covid-19-vaccines-bring-the-pandemic-under-control/.

Today, January 5, 2021, the World Bank released its World Economic Prospects report. See World Bank, World Economic Prospects, January 2021, https://www.worldbank.org/en/publication/global-economic-prospects. The press release from the World Bank provides both an estimate for growth in 2021 for the world and for various regions of the world but also cautions that the economic rebound could be reduced significantly if there are problems with vaccinations in the developed world and various advanced developing countries. See World Bank, Global Economy to Expand by 4% in 2021; Vaccine Deployment and Investment Key to Sustaining the Recovery, January 5, 2021, https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2021/01/05/global-economy-to-expand-by-4-percent-in-2021-vaccine-deployment-and-investment-key-to-sustaining-the-recovery. A large part of the press release is copied below (emphasis and italics in the original).

Development risks remain as economic activity, incomes likely to stay low for extended period

“WASHINGTON, Jan. 5, 2021 — The global economy is expected to expand 4% in 2021, assuming an initial COVID-19 vaccine rollout becomes widespread throughout the year. A recovery, however, will likely be subdued, unless policy makers move decisively to tame the pandemic and implement investment-enhancing reforms, the World Bank says in its January 2021 Global Economic Prospects.

“Although the global economy is growing again after a 4.3% contraction in 2020, the pandemic has caused a heavy toll of deaths and illness, plunged millions into poverty, and may depress economic activity and incomes for a prolonged period. Top near-term policy priorities are controlling the spread of COVID-19 and ensuring rapid and widespread vaccine deployment. To support economic recovery, authorities also need to facilitate a re-investment cycle aimed at sustainable growth that is less dependent on government debt.

“‘While the global economy appears to have entered a subdued recovery, policymakers face formidable challenges—in public health, debt management, budget policies, central banking and structural reforms—as they try to ensure that this still fragile global recovery gains traction and sets a foundation for robust growth,’ said World Bank Group President David Malpass. ‘To overcome the impacts of the pandemic and counter the investment headwind, there needs to be a major push to improve business environments, increase labor and product market flexibility, and strengthen transparency and governance.’

“The collapse in global economic activity in 2020 is estimated to have been slightly less severe than previously projected, mainly due to shallower contractions in advanced economies and a more robust recovery in China. In contrast, disruptions to activity in the majority of other emerging market and developing economies were more acute than expected.

“’Financial fragilities in many of these countries, as the growth shock impacts vulnerable household and business balance sheets, will also need to be addressed,’ Vice President and World Bank Group Chief Economist Carmen Reinhart said.

“The near-term outlook remains highly uncertain, and different growth outcomes are still possible, as a section of the report details. A downside scenario in which infections continue to rise and the rollout of a vaccine is delayed could limit the global expansion to 1.6% in 2021. Meanwhile, in an upside scenario with successful pandemic control and a faster vaccination process, global growth could accelerate to nearly 5 percent.

“In advanced economies, a nascent rebound stalled in the third quarter following a resurgence of infections, pointing to a slow and challenging recovery. U.S. GDP is forecast to expand 3.5% in 2021, after an estimated 3.6% contraction in 2020. In the euro area, output is anticipated to grow 3.6% this year, following a 7.4% decline in 2020. Activity in Japan, which shrank by 5.3% in the year just ended, is forecast to grow by 2.5% in 2021.

“Aggregate GDP in emerging market and developing economies, including China, is expected to grow 5% in 2021, after a contraction of 2.6% in 2020. China’s economy is expected to expand by 7.9% this year following 2% growth last year. Excluding China, emerging market and developing economies are forecast to expand 3.4% in 2021 after a contraction of 5% in 2020. Among low-income economies, activity is projected to increase 3.3% in 2021, after a contraction of 0.9% in 2020.

“Analytical sections of the latest Global Economic Prospects report examine how the pandemic has amplified risks around debt accumulation; how it could hold back growth over the long term absent concerted reform efforts; and what risks are associated with the use of asset purchase programs as a monetary policy tool in emerging market and developing economies.

“’The pandemic has greatly exacerbated debt risks in emerging market and developing economies; weak growth prospects will likely further increase debt burdens and erode borrowers’ ability to service debt,’ World Bank Acting Vice President for Equitable Growth and Financial Institutions Ayhan Kose said. ‘The global community needs to act rapidly and forcefully to make sure the recent debt accumulation does not end with a string of debt crises. The developing world cannot afford another lost decade.’

“As severe crises did in the past, the pandemic is expected to leave long lasting adverse effects on global activity. It is likely to worsen the slowdown in global growth projected over the next decade due to underinvestment, underemployment, and labor force declines in many advanced economies. If history is any guide, the global economy is heading for a decade of growth disappointments unless policy makers put in place comprehensive reforms to improve the fundamental drivers of equitable and sustainable economic growth.  

“Policymakers need to continue to sustain the recovery, gradually shifting from income support to growth-enhancing policies. In the longer run, in emerging market and developing economies, policies to improve health and education services, digital infrastructure, climate resilience, and business and governance practices will help mitigate the economic damage caused by the pandemic, reduce poverty and advance shared prosperity. In the context of weak fiscal positions and elevated debt, institutional reforms to spur organic growth are particularly important. In the past, the growth dividends from reform efforts were recognized by investors in upgrades to their long-term growth expectations and increased investment flows.

“Central banks in some emerging market and developing economies have employed asset purchase programs in response to pandemic-induced financial market pressures, in many cases for the first time. When targeted to market failures, these programs appear to have helped stabilize financial markets during the initial stages of the crisis. However, in economies where asset purchases continue to expand and are perceived to finance fiscal deficits, these programs may erode central bank operational independence, risk currency weakness that de-anchors inflation expectations, and increase worries about debt sustainability.”

Whether the economic recovery in 2021 is as robust as projected or is dramatically smaller (worst case scenario) will obviously affect trade flows of both goods and services. As can be seen from the initial roll out of vaccines in the U.S., EU, U.K., Canada and other countries, there are significant goods and services involved with the production, distribution and utilization of vaccines globally and within markets. Thus, if there are problems with vaccinating large parts of populations, that will have a direct effect on both goods shipments and on various services. There are also the indirect effects on goods and services from the likely continued restrictions on travel and tourism if the pandemic is not brought under control, something that widespread vaccinations will assist in achieving. My post yesterday reviewed some of the early challenges with vaccinations occurring in the U.S., EU and India. Additional articles are appearing which suggest a lot of work needs to be done to in fact permit rapid vaccinations of populations. See, e.g., Politico, The EU’s coronavirus vaccine blame game. Why so slow?, January 5, 2021, https://www.politico.eu/article/the-vaccination-blame-game-is-it-all-the-eus-fault/; Politico, Sluggish coronavirus vaccination rollout poses risks for Macron, January 5, 2021, https://www.politico.eu/article/coronavirus-covid19-vaccine-campaign-fail-france-president-emmanuel-macron-election/; Wall Street Journal, Covid-19 Vaccine’s Slow Rollout Could Portend More Problems, January 1, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/covid-19-vaccines-slow-rollout-could-portend-more-problems-11609525711/ And this comes against the backdrop of continued surges of new cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. and many other countries which will extend restrictions into the early months of 2021 at least and hence restrict economic recovery in at least the first quarter of 2021. See, e.g., Financial Times, Covid surges as UK rolls out mass vaccination programme, January 3, 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/71140ee7-8e47-4499-9fcf-2d23d5c7d94f; New York Times, The Lull Before the Surge on Top of the Surge, January 5, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/05/us/california-coronavirus.html

The World Bank report identifies a host of policy issues for governments and challenges flowing from the high level of debt that has been incurred during 2020 and the downward pressures on investment flows in many countries. Many countries will have trouble implementing the appropriate policy options because of existing debt issues (particularly many developing countries) or because of political gridlock, as is apparent in the U.S. even with a new Administration due to be sworn in on January 20. See, e.g., New York Times, $900 Billion Wonʼt Carry Biden Very Far (Despite new pandemic aid, he confronts an economic crisis unlike any since he last entered office in 2009. And political headwinds have only stiffened), January 4, 2021. Indeed, as reviewed in a recent Congressional Research Service updated report on the Global Economic Effects of COVID-19 (updated as of December 23, 2020), the level of debt incurred by developed and developing countries has surged during the pandemic with the level of fiscal deficit relative to GDP reflecting declining government revenues and increased expenditures to reduce the negative effects of the pandemic. See CRS, Global Economic Effects of COVID-19, updated December 23, 2020, page 13, https://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R46270.pdf. The figure from the report is copied below. Obviously the levels of fiscal deficit incurred in 2020 are not sustainable. They also reduce flexibilities of countries in policy actions that can be taken to speed up the recovery of the national and global economies.

Conclusion

The world needs to return to a period of sustained economic growth that is more inclusive and more equitable. The arrival of vaccines (with more expected in the first quarter of 2021) and the ramp up of production, distribution and utilization of vaccines around the world can expand economic growth both directly through the goods and services involved and indirectly through permitting countries to ease restrictions imposed to try to control the pandemic. The first few weeks of the rollout of vaccines have not been without significant problems. As reviewed in yesterday’s post, production of the vaccines that have been approved by individual nations is running behind what was anticipated, in some cases (e.g., India) significantly. While distribution has been reasonably robust in the U.S. and some other countries, there is a significant lag in getting the vaccines utilized with a wide variety of problems identified in different markets.

As the World Bank’s report today makes clear, if countries are not able to achieve significant vaccinations in 2021 the projected growth of global GDP could be cut by more than half. A global economy that is not expected to return to 2019 levels until 2022 even if 2021 growth rates are achieved will be further retarded if vaccinations lag what is needed. That will reduce trade volumes of goods and services, leave tens of millions of people around the world unemployed or underemployed, and challenge the ability to achieve UN Sustainability Goals on a host of issues including poverty, food security and many more.

President-elect Biden and his team are focused on dramatically ramping up the response in the United States, but the challenges here are significant and complicated by a divided public many of whom still doubt there is a pandemic or that it is problematic or who are opposed to vaccinations. Challenges exist in many other countries as well.

If ever there were a time for people to come together and ensure the timely vaccinations of as many people as possible as quickly as possible, it is obviously now. Whether that can be achieved is the multi-trillion dollar question.

2021 – how quickly will COVID-19 vaccines bring the pandemic under control?

News accounts report many countries starting to receive at least some doses of vaccines. In the United States, two vaccines have received emergency use authorization (“EUA”)(the Pfizer/BioNTech and the Moderna vaccines). The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has received approval (emergency use or other) in a number of countries (EU, Canada, United Kingdom, Bahrain) and was the first vaccine to receive an EUA from the World Health Organization. See WHO press release, WHO issues its first emergency use validation for a COVID-19 vaccine and emphasizes need for equitable global access, December 31, 2020, https://www.who.int/news/item/31-12-2020-who-issues-its-first-emergency-use-validation-for-a-covid-19-vaccine-and-emphasizes-need-for-equitable-global-access. As the WHO press releases indicates, “The WHO’s Emergency Use Listing (EUL) opens the door for countries to expedite their own regulatory approval processes to import and administer the vaccine. It also enables UNICEF and the Pan-American Health Organization to procure the vaccine for distribution to countries in need.”

AstraZeneca will likely seek emergency use authorization in the United States in January and Johnson & Johnson in February. AstraZeneca has received an emergency use authorization in the United Kingdom. It has also been given EUA by India (along with a vaccine from Bharat Biotech). See New York Times, India Approves Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 Vaccine and 1 other, January 3, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/03/world/asia/india-covid-19-vaccine.html.

A recent Financial Times article includes a graph showing the number of citizens in various countries who have received a first vaccination shot. See Financial Times, European leaders under pressure to speed up mass vaccination, January 1, 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/c45e5d1c-a9ea-4838-824c-413236190e7e. The countries shown as having started vaccinations include China, the U.S., the U.K., Kuwait, Mexico, Canada, Chile, Russia, Argentina, Iceland, Bahrain, Oman, Israel, and fourteen of the 27 members of the EU).

Similarly an article from CGTN on January 1, 2021 shows a number of countries who are buying COVID-19 vaccines from China including Hungary and a number of others while vaccines from China are in stage 3 trials in a number of countries. CGTN, 1 January 2021, Hungary to focus on EU, Chinese coronavirus vaccine purchases, https://news.cgtn.com/news/2021-01-01/Hungary-to-focus-on-EU-Chinese-coronavirus-vaccine-purchases-WHm11NYjni/index.html. “By the end of 2020, UAE became the first country to roll out a Chinese vaccine to the public. Pakistan also announced on Thursday that they will purchase 1.2 million COVID-19 vaccine doses from China’s Sinopharm after China officially approved the vaccine for general public use. Sinovac’s CoronaVac shot, another candidate vaccine in China, has been signed up for purchase deals with Brazil, Indonesia, Turkey, Chile, and Singapore. The company is also in supply talks with Malaysia and the Philippines.”

So the good news at the beginning of 2021 is that effective vaccines are starting to be distributed. Many others are in late stages of trials, giving hope to a significant number of vaccines approved for use in the coming months. The WHO’s list of vaccines in development and their status can be found on the WHO website at this cite. https://www.who.int/publications/m/item/draft-landscape-of-covid-19-candidate-vaccines. How quickly approved vaccines can be produced, distributed and vaccinations given globally will determine when the pandemic will be brought under control. There are many challenges that the world faces in getting to the hoped for situation of a pandemic that is in the past.

For example, even in developed countries, governments are finding that there are significant hurdles in getting production volumes up to promised levels, and much greater challenges in going from production to distribution to vaccinations. In the United States, the Trump Administration had aimed at having 20 million vaccinations accomplished by the end of 2020. Only 13.071 million doses were distributed by the end of the year according to the US CDC and only 4.2 million vaccinations (first shot of two shots) occurred. See Center for Disease Prevention and Control, COVID-19 Vaccinations in the United States, https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#vaccinations (viewed Jan. 3, 2021). President-elect Biden is talking about an aggressive program to get 100 million vaccinations (as the current vaccines require 2 shots, this means 50 million people) vaccinated in the first 100 days of his Administration (by the end of April). To achieve this objective will require cooperation from Congress in providing sufficient funding to build up the capabilities at the state and local levels. Health care infrastructure has been reduced over the last dozen years with a reduction of some 50,000 health care workers in the U.S. The huge COVID-19 case load in the United States and record hospitalizations also have health care operations across the United States overextended. So despite having sufficient vaccines on order from four companies where EUAs have been or will likely be granted in the near future to permit vaccination of all Americans by fall, there are enormous practical challenges to making the vaccinations happen in fact. And that is before the challenges of convincing portions of the population of the safety of the vaccines and the need for the vast majority of people to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity.

Similar challenges exist in many other parts of the world as well. For example, in both the EU and India the roll out of vaccines is proceeding slower than desired. See, e.g., The Guardian, BioNTech criticises EU failure to order enough Covid vaccine, January 1, 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jan/01/france-to-step-up-covid-jabs-after-claims-of-bowing-to-anti-vaxxers; Politico, France under pressure to speed up coronavirus vaccine rollout, January 3, 2021, https://www.politico.eu/article/france-under-pressure-to-speed-up-coronavirus-vaccine-rollout/; New York Times, India Approves Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 Vaccine and 1 other, January 3, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/03/world/asia/india-covid-19-vaccine.html (“The Serum Institute, an Indian drug maker that struck a deal to produce the Oxford vaccine even before its effectiveness had been proven, has managed to make only about one-tenth of the 400 million doses it had committed to manufacturing before the end of the year.”).

The WHO/GAVI/CEPI effort to get vaccines to the world on a equitable basis has much of its vaccine commitments in products still in the testing stage although roughly one billion doses can be available for a vaccine currently approved on an emergency use basis in the U.K. and India (the AstraZeneca vaccine) through COVAX agreements with AstraZeneca directly and with an Indian producer who can be asked to produce one of two potential vaccines, including the AstraZeneca one. See WHO, COVAX Announces additional deals to access promising COVID-19 vaccine candidates; plans global rollout starting Q1 2021, 18 December 2020, https://www.who.int/news/item/18-12-2020-covax-announces-additional-deals-to-access-promising-covid-19-vaccine-candidates-plans-global-rollout-starting-q1-2021.

“Geneva/Oslo, 18 December 2020

“COVAX, the global initiative to ensure rapid and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for all countries, regardless of income level, today announced that it had arrangements in place to access nearly two billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine candidates, on behalf of 190 participating economies. For the vast majority of these deals, COVAX has guaranteed access to a portion of the first wave of production, followed by volume scales as further supply becomes available. The arrangements announced today will enable all participating economies to have access to doses in the first half of 2021, with first deliveries anticipated to begin in the first quarter of 2021 – contingent upon regulatory approvals and countries’ readiness for delivery.

“Given these are arrangements for 2 billion doses of vaccine candidates which are still under development, COVAX will continue developing its portfolio: this will be critical to achieve its goal of securing access to 2 billion doses of safe and effective, approved vaccines that are suitable for all participants’ contexts, and available by the end of 2021. However, today’s announcements offer the clearest pathway yet to end the acute phase of the pandemic by protecting the most vulnerable populations around the world. This includes delivering at least 1.3 billion donor-funded doses of approved vaccines in 2021 to the 92 low- and middle-income economies eligible for the COVAX AMC.

“The new deals announced today include the signing of an advance purchase agreement with AstraZeneca for 170 million doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford candidate, and a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Johnson & Johnson for 500 million doses of the Janssen candidate, which is currently being investigated as a single dose vaccine.. These deals are in addition to existing agreements COVAX has with the Serum Institute of India (SII) for 200 million doses – with options for up to 900 million doses more – of either the AstraZeneca/Oxford or Novavax candidates, as well as a statement of intent for 200million doses of the Sanofi/GSK vaccine candidate.

“In addition to this, COVAX also has – through R&D partnership agreements – first right of refusal in 2021 to access potentially more than one billion doses (based on current estimates from the manufacturing processes under development) that will be produced, subject to technical success and regulatory approval, by candidates in the COVAX R&D Portfolio.”

* * *

“The COVAX Facility currently has 190 participating economies. This includes 98 higher-income economies and 92 low- and middle-income economies eligible to have their participation in the Facility supported via the financing mechanism known as the Gavi COVAX AMC. Of the 92 economies eligible to be supported by the COVAX AMC, 86 have now submitted detailed vaccine requests, offering the clearest picture yet on actual global demand for COVID-19 vaccines.

“In addition to gathering detailed information on participating economies’ vaccine requests, COVAX, through Gavi, UNICEF,WHO, the World Bank, and other partners has been working closely with all countries in the Facility, particularly AMC-eligible participants, to help plan and prepare for the widespread roll out of vaccines. Conditions that determine country readiness include regulatory preparedness as well as the availability of infrastructure, appropriate legal frameworks, training, and capacity, among other factors.

“’Securing access to doses of a new vaccine for both higher-income and lower-income countries, at roughly the same time and during a pandemic, is a feat the world has never achieved before – let alone at such unprecedented speed and scale,’ said Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which leads on procurement and delivery for COVAX. ‘COVAX has now built a platform that offers the world the prospect, for the first time, of being able to defeat the pandemic on a global basis, but the work is not done: it’s critical that both governments and industry continue to support our efforts to achieve this goal’.

Early pledges towards 2021 fundraising targets

“To achieve this ambitious goal, COVAX currently estimates it needs to raise an additional US$ 6.8 billion in 2021 – US$ 800 million for research and development, at least US$ 4.6 billion for the COVAX AMC and US$ 1.4 billion for delivery support.

“Support for the COVAX AMC will be critical to ensuring ability to pay is not a barrier to access. Thanks to the generous support of sovereign, private sector, and philanthropic donors, the AMC has met its urgent 2020 fundraising target of US$ 2 billion, but at least US$ 4.6 billion more is needed in 2021 to procure doses of successful candidates as they come through the portfolio.”

In the United States and in the EU, governments are looking to expand volumes of proven vaccines while awaiting approval of other vaccine candidates. See Pfizer press release, PFIZER AND BIONTECH TO SUPPLY THE U.S. WITH100 MILLION ADDITIONAL DOSES OF COVID-19VACCINE, December 23, 2020, https://www.pfizer.com/news/press-release/press-release-detail/pfizer-and-biontech-supply-us-100-million-additional-doses; Pfizer press release, PFIZER AND BIONTECH TO SUPPLY THEEUROPEAN UNION WITH 100 MILLIONADDITIONAL DOSES OF COMIRNATY®, December 29, 2020, https://www.pfizer.com/news/press-release/press-release-detail/pfizer-and-biontech-supply-european-union-100-million; HHS, Trump Administration purchases additional 100 million doses of COVID-19 investigational vaccine from Moderna, December 11, 2020, https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2020/12/11/trump-administration-purchases-additional-100-million-doses-covid-19-investigational-vaccine-moderna.html.

Conclusion

The world is anxiously awaiting the resolution of the pandemic through the approval and distribution of effective vaccines on a global basis in 2021. The good news is that a number of vaccines have been approved in one or more countries and billions of doses of approved vaccines will likely be produced in 2021. The efforts of the WHO, GAVI and CEPI and the generosity of many nations, private and philanthropic organizations will mean people in nearly all countries will receive at least some significant volume of vaccines in 2021. As most vaccines require two shots, the number of people vaccinated in 2021 in an optimistic scenario is probably less than two billion. The world population at the beginning of 2021 is 7.8 billion people. Thus, 2021, even under an optimistic scenario, will not likely result in the eradication of the pandemic around the world.

Even in countries like the United States, the United Kingdom and the 27 members of the European Union where advance purchases should result in sufficient doses being available to vaccinate all eligible members of society, there are massive challenges in terms of distribution and vaccinating the numbers of people involved and educating the populations on the safety and benefits of the vaccines. Thus, even in wealthier countries it will be optimistic to achieve the desired levels of vaccination by the end of 2021.

The Director-General of the WHO in his year-end message laid out the likely situation for the world in 2021, the availability of vaccines but the continued need to be vigilant and adhere to preventive measures to control the pandemic and the need to work collectively to ensure equitable and affordable access to vaccines for all. See WHO,COVID-19: One year later – WHO, Director-General’s new year message, December 30, 2020, https://www.who.int/news/item/30-12-2020-covid-19-anniversary-and-looking-forward-to-2021 (Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General)

“As people around the world celebrated New Year’s Eve 12 months ago, a new global threat emerged.

“Since that moment, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken so many lives and caused massive disruption to families, societies and economies all over the world.

“But it also triggered the fastest and most wide-reaching response to a global health emergency in human history.

“The hallmarks of this response have been an unparalleled mobilization of science, a search for solutions and a commitment to global solidarity.

“Acts of generosity, large and small, equipped hospitals with the tools that health workers needed to stay safe and care for their patients.

“Outpourings of kindness have helped society’s most vulnerable through troubled times.

“Vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics have been developed and rolled out, at record speed, thanks to collaborations including the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator.

“Equity is the essence of the ACT Accelerator, and its vaccine arm, COVAX, which has secured access to 2 billion doses of promising vaccine candidates.

“Vaccines offer great hope to turn the tide of the pandemic.

“But to protect the world, we must ensure that all people at risk everywhere – not just in countries who can afford vaccines –are immunized.

“To do this, COVAX needs just over 4 billion US dollars urgently to buy vaccines for low- and lower-middle income countries.

“This is the challenge we must rise to in the new year.

“My brothers and sisters, the events of 2020 have provided telling lessons, and reminders, for us all to take into 2021.

“First and foremost, 2020 has shown that governments must increase investment in public health, from funding access to COVID vaccines for all people, to making our systems better prepared to prevent and respond to the next, inevitable, pandemic.

“At the heart of this is investing in universal health coverage to make health for all a reality.

“Second, as it will take time to vaccinate everyone against COVID, we must keep adhering to tried and tested measures that keep each and all of us safe.

“This means maintaining physical distance, wearing face masks, practicing hand and respiratory hygiene, avoiding crowded indoor places and meeting people outside.

“These simple, yet effective measures will save lives and reduce the suffering that so many people encountered in 2020.

“Third, and above all, we must commit to working together in solidarity, as a global community, to promote and protect health today, and in the future.

“We have seen how divisions in politics and communities feed the virus and foment the crisis.

“But collaboration and partnership save lives and safeguard societies.

“In 2020, a health crisis of historic proportions showed us just how closely connected we all are.

“We saw how acts of kindness and care helped neighbors through times of great struggle.

“But we also witnessed how acts of malice, and misinformation, caused avoidable harm.

“Going into 2021, we have a simple, yet profound, choice to make:

“Do we ignore the lessons of 2020 and allow insular, partisan approaches, conspiracy theories and attacks on science to prevail, resulting in unnecessary suffering to people’s health and society at large?

“Or do we walk the last miles of this crisis together, helping each other along the way, from sharing vaccines fairly, to offering accurate advice, compassion and care to all who need, as one global family.

“The choice is easy.

“There is light at the end of the tunnel, and we will get there by taking the path together.

“WHO stands with you – We Are Family and we are In This Together.

“I wish you and your loved ones a peaceful, safe and healthy new year.”

We all want to have the COVID-19 pandemic in the rearview mirror as 2021 progresses. There is hope for significant progress this year. How much progress will depend on the will of governments and peoples to focus on the eradication of the pandemic and to support the dramatic ramp up of production, distribution and vaccination of the world’s people.

In last two weeks, United States adds more than three million new confirmed COVID-19 cases; world approaches nine million new cases; first vaccines start to ship in United Kingdom, Canada, Bahrain, United States and shortly in the European Union; hope for a better 2021

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) shifted from a daily report on global cases to a weekly total last week. In today’s report, the United States becomes the only country to record more than three million new cases in a two week period. ECDC, COVID-19 situation update worldwide, as of week 51 2020. It is also the only country to have recorded 2,000,000 in a two week period. The 3,087,841 new cases in weeks 50 and 51 constitute 34.73% of the global total of 8,888,940 new cases in the last two weeks and was 4.68 times the number reported in Brazil (660,079), 8.16 times the number reported in India — the two countries after the United States with the most cases. For the full 2020, the United States has accounted for 23.47% (17,844,839) of global cases (76,046,387) despite being only 4.3% of the global population.

The weekly total for the United States has been an almost uninterrupted surge in new cases for the last three months or so. Below are the data as compiled by the ECDC for weeks 37-51 for the United States. Deaths have also been climbing rapidly but at a slower rate than new cases. The U.S. accounts for 18.75% (317,670) of global deaths (1,693,858) in 2020 from COVID-19 and a higher percentage in recent weeks. Deaths for the same weeks for the U.S. are shown below. The U.S. is seeing deaths approaching 3,000/day with some days as high as 4,000+. With hospitalizations at all time highs, and surging cases and rising deaths, the U.S. is likely to surpass 400,000 deaths by January 20, 2021 when President-elect Joe Biden will be sworn in.

Number of new COVID-19 cases reported by the U.S.Week in 2020No. of deaths reported in the U.S.
             243,5582020-37  5,138               
             284,8352020-38 5,430
             310,2322020-39 5,247
             302,7992020-40 5,038
             344,6992020-41 4,977
             392,0512020-42 4,903
             481,5702020-43 5,556
             571,1972020-44 5,766
             764,2892020-45 6,576
         1,065,4102020-46 8,642
         1,209,8482020-47 10,568
         1,136,4122020-48 10,091
         1,373,6772020-49 15,437
         1,499,7562020-50 16,867
         1,588,0852020-51 18,493

The good news is the approval of the first vaccines in the U.S., approvals in a number of other countries of at least one vaccine (United Kingdom, Canada, Bahrain, European Union) and more vaccines getting close to completing their trials. See, e.g., New York Times, E.U. Approves Pfizer Vaccine, Setting Stage for High-Stakes Rollout, December 21, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/21/world/europe/eu-coronavirus-vaccine.html. These western vaccines are in addition to the ones produced in China and the Russia Federation that were released before all trials were completed.

However, even for countries who have lined up large volumes of vaccines through up-front contracts for delivery in December or the front half of 2021, countries who have approved one or more of the western company vaccines are still months away from having enough people vaccinated to make a significant dent in the levels of new cases or deaths without strong efforts to maintain social distancing, wear masks, minimize size of gatherings, washing hands, etc.

With mutations of the virus having appeared in the U.K. and elsewhere, it is also unclear how efficacious the early vaccines will be on the mutations. Early information on the news today, suggests at least some reduction in effectiveness is likely, which could have implications for the percentage of the population needed to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity. Many countries are banning travel from the U.K. in an effort to prevent the spread of the mutant variation of COVID-19 identified in the U.K. which is believed to spread much more easily. See Politico, Mutant coronavirus strain: What we know so far, December 21, 2020, https://www.politico.eu/article/mutant-coronavirus-strain-what-we-know-so-far/.

While the short-term future has many challenges, many are hopeful that 2021 will see the COVID-19 pandemic being handled as vaccines are approved and produced and distributed to all peoples around the world to permit a return to greater normalcy. See Time, What Bill Gates Thinks About the State of the Fight Against COVID-19, December 22, 2020, https://time.com/5923916/bill-gates-covid-19-letter/; Bill Gates, YEAR IN REVIEW, These breakthroughs will make 2021 better than 2020, The latest on the innovations that will let us go back to normal, December 20, 2020, https://www.gatesnotes.com/About-Bill-Gates/Year-in-Review-2020.

The WTO has both been monitoring trade restrictive and liberalizing actions taken by Members relating to the pandemic and has also recently put out a paper reviewing trade policy issues that can arise as the world shifts to the production and distribution of vaccines around the world. See WTO, TRIPS, WTO paper explores role of trade policy in the rapid roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines, December 22, 2020, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/trip_22dec20_e.htm. The press release describes the content of the new paper as follows:

“The WTO Secretariat has published a new information note on trade-related issues for COVID-19 vaccine production, manufacturing and deployment. The note, entitled ‘Developing and delivering COVID-19
vaccines around the world,’ explores how trade policy can play its part in ensuring the rapid roll-out of vaccines against COVID-19.

“The paper goes into further detail on key topics included in two documents previously published on the WTO website: ‘Infographic: Developing & delivering COVID-19 vaccines around the world’ (https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/covid19_e/vaccine_infographic_e.pdf) and ‘Developing & delivering COVID-19 vaccines around the world: A checklist of issues with trade impact’
(https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/covid19_e/vaccine_checklist_e.pdf) .

“The new information note comprises three sections. Section A provides background information on immunization and the urgent search for vaccines against COVID-19. This section points to immunization as a key component of primary health care and highlights the ambitious national and global targets that have been set for COVID-19 vaccines. According to the World Health Organization (https://www.who.int/publications/m/item/fair-allocation-mechanism-for-covid-19-vaccines-through-the-covax-facility) and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance (https://www.gavi.org/vaccineswork/covax-explained), two billion COVID-19 vaccine doses are to be distributed by the end of 2021, with an allocation for every country equal to 20 per cent of the population so as to cover prioritized target groups.

“Section B provides an overview of the development and delivery of vaccines in the form of an infographic listing seven steps in this process: vaccine development, domestic approval (manufacture), vaccine manufacture, domestic approval (importer), international distribution, border clearance, and domestic distribution and surveillance.

“Finally, Section C identifies where key decisions with trade impact may need to be made along the vaccine value chain and provides a non-exhaustive list of useful resources to help inform decision-making. This section includes a checklist of trade issues to consider along with the COVID-19 vaccine value chain, as well as a world map of clinical trials and partnerships on COVID-19 treatments.

“The report can be found here (https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/covid19_e/vaccine_report_e.pdf).”

The report is embedded below.

vaccine_report_e

Conclusion

The COVID-19 pandemic has rocked the world in 2020. Some continents have come through with relatively few cases (Africa) or have often been successful in minimizing outbreaks (significant parts of Asia, Oceania). Europe was hit hard early (March-April) and suffered a much bigger second surge in the September -November period though renewed restrictions have brought case numbers down significantly in December. The Americas has had the highest number of cases and deaths of any region. The United States has gone through a number of surges and is currently exceeding or close to exceeding medical facility capabilities in many parts of the country. So 2020 is ending in a spiraling crisis in the United States. The arrival of vaccines is welcome news for all peoples but will take considerable time to be produced and distributed both within countries with high infection rates and to the rest of the world.

The role of trade in a pandemic is largely focused on keeping markets open for the movement of medical goods and food products. While a large number of countries have introduced some export restrictions on medical goods (and some on food products), many countries have also introduced actions to speed movement of medical goods and to lower costs. While there have not been new multilateral agreements to keep markets open or liberalize trade in medical goods, there have been some efforts at cooperation and coordination by at least some countries.

While the actions taken by governments to try to control the virus led to significant contractions in trade in the second quarter of 2020, much of prior trade flows were restored in the third quarter but will likely see some reductions in the fourth with the second wave of restrictions on activities in many countries in the last month or two. Certain service sectors (travel and tourism generally; air transport, restaurants, hotels specifically) have been very hard hit by the restrictions imposed with many businesses closing, more than 100 million people unemployed or underemployed in the sector and a post-pandemic world likely to be much changed particularly in sectors like restaurants that are dominated by small business operators. Most projections don’t see a restoration of global GDP levels to those achieved in 2019 until at least 2022.

Trillions of dollars have been poured into a number of countries as stimulus to prevent the further collapse of the economies involved. Those actions have reduced the size of the downturn which still is the worst since World War II for much of the world. The size of the stimulus infusions have also greatly increased the level of debts for the countries engaged in the stimulus activities. For countries without the ability to borrow huge sums for stimulus, the contraction in GDP has often been severe with gains from the last decade being wiped out in some cases.

So the world needs 2021 to be better than 2020. How the efforts at vaccine development proceed and the level of commitment and funding for production expansion and global distribution will be major factors in whether 2021 fulfills the promise of equitable and affordable access to vaccines and therapeutics needed to get the world back to a more normal place.

As first COVID-19 vaccine starts to be shipped to the United Kingdom, Canada, Bahrain and the United States, the number of new cases reaches another record over the last fourteen days

While both Russia and China have had vaccines that they have been using within country and shipping to some other countries, the first vaccine to have gone through all testing phases and be approved by certain western countries is the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine (Pfizer vaccine). The first shots of the Pfizer vaccine were administered in the United Kingdom last week and are being distributed to the other countries which have approved the vaccine for emergency use. In the United States, shipments are going from Pfizer’s Michigan factory today to locations around the country with first vaccinations possible for selected groups as early as tomorrow. A second vaccine from Moderna is likely to be approved in the coming week or so. Others are expected to be submitted for emergency authorization in a few weeks time. So the good news is that vaccines that are safe and efficacious have been developed in record time. The challenges now will be the ramp up of global production, distribution from plant to distribution points and further distribution to hospitals, pharmacies, doctors offices capable of handling the vaccines (particularly for the Pfizer vaccine which has to be maintained at extraordinarily low temperatures requiring special cold storage facilities to handle), adequate medical personnel and equipment to vaccinate populations, organizing populations to receive the vaccine in an order decided by government and a willingness on the part of the population to be vaccinated. In the United States, vaccines will be distributed to the states and local areas but further distribution and state efforts at fulfilling the remaining steps are handicapped by limited funds and the failure to date of the U.S. Congress and Trump Administration to agree on a supplement stimulus package that will, inter alia, ensure adequate funding for the states to ensure proper distribution and means for vaccinating their populations. There is also a need for a major communication campaign as presently only 47% of people in the U.S. indicate they will get vaccinated; 26% indicate they will not get vaccinated and 27% are unsure. The EU is hoping to get the Pfizer vaccine approved by the end of the year although is under pressure to move that time line up. Politico, December 13, 2020, Pressure mounts on EU regulator to approve coronavirus vaccine — and fast, European regulators hope that taking more time will convince the skeptics to get vaccinated, https://www.politico.eu/article/pressure-mounts-on-eu-regulator-to-approve-coronavirus-vaccine-quickly/.

Juxtaposed to the good news of vaccine approval is the continued rise in the number of new cases of COVID-19 around the world, high death rates in the U.S. and much of Europe with very challenging times facing governments until vaccine distribution and vaccinations are widespread.

This post will focus on the United States. The United States has 4.3% of the world’s population but has had one of the worst performances of any country on earth in terms of bringing the virus under control. With 16,067,031 total COVID-19 cases reported in the United States as of December 13, the United States accounts for 22.64% of the total cases in the world (70,957,979). However, during the last fourteen days, the United States 2,820,380 new cases accounted for an astounding 32.74% of global cases (8,613,822). European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, COVID-19 situation update worldwide, as of 13 December 2020. During the last two weeks, the U.S. averaged more than 200,000 new cases each day — another first. Indeed, no other country has reported 100,000 new cases in a single day throughout the 2020 period. By contrast, the United States has reported 100,000 or more new cases on forty days, including the last 39 days in a row. The United States has now reported 200,000 or more new cases for 10 days including 9 of the last 11 days. Global cases have started to increase again, up 5.79% over the prior two week period (November 16-29). The United States saw an increase of 20.44% or an increase 478,620 over the prior two week. Indeed, the rest of the world declined slightly as the U.S. accounted for more than 100% of the global increase in the last two week. And projections are that the number of new cases will continue to rise in the United States in the coming weeks. For example, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States monitors forecasts made by various entities and reports periodically the projected number of new cases and deaths. The latest update from December 9 shows a composite projection of an increase of some 14-15% in the coming weeks. See, CDC, COVID-19 Forecasts: Cases, updated Dec. 9, 2020, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/forecasts-cases.html. Thus, the United States will likely have the dubious distinction of recording more than 3,000,000 new cases in the next two week period.

On deaths from COVID-19, the United States has recorded 297,837 from COVID-19 or 18.35% of the world total (1,605,595). Over the last fourteen days, the United States has recorded 31,774 deaths (2,269.57/day) or 20.90% of the world total (152,064). Deaths in Europe have been very high in recent weeks following the extraordinary surge in the last two months in new cases although cases in Europe have been dropping over the last several weeks which should mean declining death totals in Europe in the coming weeks. Deaths in the United States are projected to continue rising and are already around one death every thirty seconds (indeed as deaths exceed 3,000/day some days, it is one death every 25-29 second. CDC’s recent update of various forecasts show likely increases in deaths in the U.S. in the coming weeks, some projections showing more than 3,000/day. See CDC, COVID-19 Forecasts: Deaths, updated December 9, 2020, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/covid-data/forecasting-us.html.

U.S. hospitalizations due to COVID-19 have now topped 100,000 and many states are near or exceeding capacity for ICU beds. On December 12, 2020, The COVID Tracking Project tallied 108,487 U.S. hospitalizations due to COVID. The image below is copied from the COVID Tracking Project webpage and shows current hospitalizations more than 60% higher than prior peaks from April and June/July. https://public.tableau.com/profile/covid.tracking.project#!/vizhome/CTPWebsiteGallery/7_USCHospitalized.

With the continued surge in new cases and increasing hospitalizations, many states are facing severe challenges. California has reimposed lock down requirements on most parts of the state. Reno, Nevada has had a huge spike in cases, requiring the city to convert a parking lot to a COVID-19 facility. Press articles show the problem is occurring in many places. See, e.g., Houston Chronicle, December 10, 2020, TMC hospitals, hit by COVID surge, exceed base ICU capacity for first time since summer, https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/health/article/COVID-ICU-capacity-patients-Texas-Med-Center-news-15791754.php; Raleigh News & Observer, December 8, 2020, NC hospitals will run out of beds if current COVID trends continue, researchers say, https://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/article247691885.html.

With vaccines now starting to ship, the U.S. is predicting that some 60% of Americans will be vaccinated by the summer (described as any American who wishes to be vaccinated). Dr. Fauci has indicated that vaccinations of 70% or more will be required for herd immunity, but life may start to return to a more normal state by late summer if the government, businesses and the population work together to maximize vaccinations and continue to follow other precautions until then (mask wearing, social distancing, handwashing, small group gatherings, etc.). It will also require the Congress and the Trump Administration to get the supplement stimulus package passed and enacted into law to ensure adequate funding for the states to ensure full and timely implementation of the vaccination effort.

But despite the good news on vaccines, the challenges facing the U.S. certainly for the first two quarters of 2021 and perhaps longer, will continue to be extraordinary considering current conditions and projections through January. For the United States, it is certain to be a very dark and challenging winter and at least early Spring. The incoming Biden Administration understands the importance of a full court press to get the pandemic under control. Let’s hope that the problems prove manageable and that the carnage the American people have suffered can be drastically reduced and quickly stopped.

Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights meeting of December 10, 2020 – no resolution on proposed waiver of TRIPS obligations to address the pandemic

On December 10th, the WTO Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights held a meeting to consider a proposed waiver for all countries of various TRIPS Agreement obligations during the COVID-19 pandemic. I have previously looked at the proposed waiver and reactions thereto in two prior posts. See December 6, 2020, Upcoming December 11th Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights meeting – reaction to proposed waiver from TRIPS obligations to address COVID-19, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/12/06/upcoming-december-11th-wto-council-for-trade-related-aspects-of-intellectual-property-rights-meeting-reaction-to-proposed-waiver-from-trips-obligations-to-address-covid-19/ (date of meeting incorrectly listed as December 11); November 2, 2020:  India and South Africa seek waiver from WTO intellectual property obligations to add COVID-19 – issues presented, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/02/india-and-south-africa-seek-waiver-from-wto-intellectual-property-obligations-to-address-covid-19-issues-presented/.

The WTO press release on the meeting indicates that Members will continue to discuss the proposal in future meetings as there was no consensus yet on the proposed waiver. See WTO press release, December 10, 2020, Members to continue discussion on proposal for temporary IP waiver in response to COVID-19, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/trip_10dec20_e.htm. The meeting was held to permit the Council to prepare a report to the General Council ahead of its December 16 meeting. As noted in the press release,

“As a result of the consultations, the chair proposed that the TRIPS Council provide a neutral and factual communication to the General Council reflecting the state of play of discussions and the absence of consensus on the waiver proposal in the TRIPS Council at this time. The communication would indicate that the TRIPS Council has not yet completed its consideration of the waiver request and may not be able to do so within the 90 days stipulated. Therefore, it would propose that the TRIPS Council continues its consideration of the waiver request and reports back to the General Council as stipulated in Article IX:3 of the Marrakesh Agreement.”

The next scheduled TRIPS Council meeting is scheduled for March, but the Chair indicated informal meetings may be held in January and February to work on a path forward.

The press release in its entirety is embedded below.

WTO-_-2020-News-items-Members-to-continue-discussion-on-proposal-for-temporary-IP-waiver-in-response-to-COVID-19

There remains a sharp divide between the proponents and their supporters on the one hand who argue that TRIPS obligations will hinder speedy and equitable distribution of vaccines and other materials needed for handling the pandemic and the range of Members who opposed a waiver on the basis that there hasn’t been a factual showing that TRIPS flexibilities don’t address concerns and that TRIPS provisions are not the only issue that goes to production capacity and production.

As noted in my last post, four WTO Members (Australia, Canada, Chile and Mexico) have proposed a series of questions for Members to consider and respond to in an effort to develop a factual record for what actual problems Members are having so any waiver or other action would respond to actual versus feared potential problems. There was no public indication of whether WTO Members will respond to the questions and/or otherwise cooperate in the establishment of a data base of challenges being experienced in fact by Members in addressing the pandemic.

Trade press have reported on the meeting and the continued disagreement between the two groups of Members. See, e.g., Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online, December 10, 2020, WTO members to continue talks on TRIPS waiver, but no consensus in sight, https://insidetrade.com/daily-news/wto-members-continue-talks-trips-waiver-no-consensus-sight (“The U.S., the European Union and Japan, among others, oppose the waiver, insisting that intellectual property protections are necessary to spur innovation and collaboration. The U.S. on Thursday called instead for members to identify specific problems related to accessing a product and then find targeted solutions. * * * Canada on Thursday argued that the built-in flexibility of the agreement is proven to work, citing the example of Canada’s issuance, in 2017, of a compulsory license granting a Canadian company permission to use nine patents in producing an HIV drug for Rwanda.”); Washington Trade Daily, December 11, 2020, TRIPS Waiver Talks to Continue, https://files.constantcontact.com/ef5f8ffe501/25ec633d-96b4-44cd-8c0d-2eb9108795b9.pdf (pages 2-4).

Look for the proposed waiver to be a topic of continued disagreement within the TRIPS Council in 2021 until such time as there is a much clearer picture of the actual problems to which a much narrower waiver would actually be needed and effective if nonwaiver options are not available. With vaccine approvals starting and with production and distribution being ramped up in 2021, there will be materials delivered to many countries next year either through COVAX or through voluntary licensing arrangements. As noted in an earlier post, there are several billion vaccine doses capacity available through these current options.

WTO Government Procurement — proposed action by the United States to modify obligations of the central government on medicines and medical goods contained in Annex 1

On November 27, 2020, the United States filed two documents with the WTO’s Committee on Government Procurement. Each proposed modifications to Annex 1 of the U.S. schedule of commitments under the GPA dealing with central government agency/entity procurements. Proposed modification to Appendix 1 of the United States under the 1994 Agreement on Government Procurement, GPA/MOD/USA/17; Proposed modification to Appendix 1 of the United States under the Revised Agreement on Government Procurement, GPA/MOD/USA/18. As the title of the submission indicates, the U.S. proposed modifications pertain to Annex 1 commitments of the U.S. which are central government commitments only. Thus, for the 1994 Agreement, Annexes 2-5 are not in play with Annex 2 dealing with sub-central government entities being the relevant other major Annex (Annex 1: central government entities; Annex 2: sub-central government entities;
Annex 3: other entities; Annex 4: services; Annex 5: construction services). On the revised Agreement there are seven Annexes, of which only Annex 1 on center government entities is covered by the U.S. proposed modification (Annex 1: central government entities; Annex 2: sub-central government entities; Annex 3: other entities; Annex 4: goods; Annex 5: services; Annex 6: construction services; Annex 7: general notes).

While both U.S. proposed modification documents are presently restricted (and hence not available to the public), the notices constitute USTR following the requirements of Executive Order 13944 of August 6, 2020 to take steps within 30 days after the Food and Drug Administration had published its list of drugs and active pharmaceutical ingredients that are essential. See Executive Order 13944 of August 6, 2020, Combating Public Health Emergencies and Strengthening National Security by Ensuring Essential Medicines, Medical Counter- measures, and Critical Inputs Are Made in the United States, 85 Fed. Reg. 49,929 – 49-934 (August 14, 2020). USTR’s obligations extend beyond the WTO and include any trade agreements with government procurement commitments. But for purposes of this post, I am focusing just on the WTO Agreement on Government Procurement (1994 and Revised). The Executive Order is embedded below but is an effort to address perceived supply chain problems and “over reliance” on imported product including active pharmaceutical ingredients (“APIs”).

FR-of-EO-13944

While the United States is a major pharmaceutical research and development country, U.S. pharmaceutical companies have moved much API production offshore as well as finished product production. China and India are the largest suppliers of APIs to the United States. With the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Trump Administration has pursued efforts to onshore manufacturing of essential medical products including through the Executive Order 13944. See, e.g., Datex, Onshoring U.S. Pharmaceutical Manufacturing:COVID-19, Congress and Puerto Rico Pharma Hub, Ideas for returning pharmaceutical manufacturing to the U.S., https://www.datexcorp.com/onshoring-u-s-pharmaceutical-manufacturing-covid-19-congress-and-puerto-rico-pharma-hub/; Fierce Pharma, June 3, 2020, U.S. seeks to onshore drug production in response to COVID-19. Is pharma even interested?, https://www.fiercepharma.com/manufacturing/pharma-pushes-back-u-s-legislation-to-bring-drug-manufacturing-stateside; Policy & Medicine, August 26, 2020, Trump Signs Executive Order Regarding Medical Supply Chain,https://www.policymed.com/2020/09/trump-signs-executive-order-regarding-medical-supply-chain.html.

While onshoring is not supported by pharmaceutical companies and has been cited as not likely cost-effective or necessary to address the current or future pandemics, to date both the Trump Administration and President-elect Biden have expressed support for at least some onshoring to ensure greater availability of medicines and materials. See, e.g., S&P Global Market Intelligence, October 15, 2020, US drug onshoring is more complex than Trump, Biden political pitches – experts, https://www.spglobal.com/marketintelligence/en/news-insights/latest-news-headlines/us-drug-onshoring-is-more-complex-than-trump-biden-political-pitches-8211-experts-60714320.

Deputy Director-General Alan Wolff in a statement to the World Economic Forum on November 12, 2020 reviewed some of the reasons for WTO Members not to put excessive reliance on onshoring and to use supply chains and strengthen them. See WTO, 12 November 2020, DDG Wolff calls for new initiatives to cut tariffs on medical supplies and equipment, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/ddgaw_12nov20_e.htm.

On the feasibility of localization

“Trade this year has proved to be essential to meet the world’s needs for medical supplies. National stockpiles proved inadequate. Investment was only part of the answer.

“Trade played a critical role in meeting the vastly increased demand for medical goods and medicines. WTO data show that trade in personal protective equipment (PPE) more than doubled from May 2019 to May 2020. It was a key factor in creating supply resilience, even though some shortages persist even in advanced economies.

“Purely domestic supply chains would have been unable to meet a surge in demand of the suddenness and magnitude experienced. Export controls may have exacerbated the problems, even though many have been subsequently rolled back.

“It appears that the shock persisted in policymakers’ minds in many countries, following initial calls for re-shoring manufacturing production for key products.

“Supporters of localization tend to portray it as risk-free. This is wrong. Concentrating industry at home might insulate it from turbulence elsewhere, but the domestic sources of supplies are more vulnerable to localized disruptions, such as from a hurricane or an outbreak of disease. In addition, the economics dictate that complete self-sufficiency is unworkable for any country, rich or poor.

“Deep and diversified international markets offer the most promising and cost-effective path to supply resilience. But its viability will hinge on whether countries and their citizens feel that international markets can be trusted in a crisis

On reliance on global supply chains

“Economics will be the key determinant of the resilience of international supply chain.

“If countries can be confident that they will be able to rely on international markets for imports when they need them, they will have less reason to restrict exports.

“The preliminary evidence suggests that moves to diversify supply chains have primarily seen production shift from one low-cost country to another.

“Increasingly sophisticated machines have already been diminishing the importance of labor cost arbitrage in the choice of manufacturing location.

“Productivity will be a key determinant of which firms are able to go compete internationally.

“A few years ago, the Brookings Institution looked at five key determinants of the manufacturing environment: 1) overall policies and regulations; 2) tax policy; 3) energy, transportation, and health costs; 4) workforce quality; and 5) infrastructure and innovation. It is instructive that when the study made recommendations for how to improve the manufacturing environment, at the top of their list was political and economic predictability, including open trade policies.

“On shoring and near-shoring have to obey these economic rules if they are going to play an increasing role in national choices.”

U.S. commitments in Annex 1 of the 1994 GPA and the Revised GPA

The U.S. commitments under the GPA include purchases by the Departments of Health and Human Services and of Defense. The two sets of Annex 1 obligations (1994 GPA; revised GPA) are embedded below.

GPA-1994-usa1

rev_usa1e

The Food and Drug Administration list of essential pharmaceutical and other medical products is embedded below and constitutes what is presumably being proposed for withdrawal from coverage of the GPA 1994 and revised GPA in the U.S. Annex coverage. It is a long list of products, if, as assumed, it is the FDA list that has been put forward.

download

Modification of Annexes under the WTO 1994 GPA and under the WTO revised GPA

While the WTO’s Agreement on Government Procurement envisions expanded coverage over time by signatories, both the original agreement and the revised agreement provide for possible modifications of the Agreement with rebalancing of benefits for other countries or retaliation where action is taken without rebalancing. The 1994 Agreement in Article XXIV:6 provides for rectifications and modifications of commitments:

Article XXIV: Final Provisions

* * *

“6.     Rectifications or Modifications

“(a)    Rectifications, transfers of an entity from one Annex to another or, in exceptional cases, other modifications relating to Appendices I through IV shall be notified to the Committee, along with information as to the likely consequences of the change for the mutually agreed coverage provided in this Agreement. If the rectifications, transfers or other modifications are of a purely formal or minor nature, they shall become effective provided there is no objection within 30 days. In other cases, the Chairman of the Committee shall promptly convene a meeting of the Committee. The Committee shall consider the proposal and any claim for compensatory adjustments, with a view to maintaining a balance of rights and obligations and a comparable level of mutually agreed coverage provided in this Agreement prior to such notification. In the event of agreement not being reached, the matter may be pursued in accordance with the provisions contained in Article XXII.
 

“(b)    Where a Party wishes, in exercise of its rights, to withdraw an entity from Appendix I on the grounds that government control or influence over it has been effectively eliminated, that Party shall notify the Committee. Such modification shall become effective the day after the end of the following meeting of the Committee, provided that the meeting is no sooner than 30 days from the date of notification and no objection has been made. In the event of an objection, the matter may be pursued in accordance with the procedures on consultations and dispute settlement contained in Article XXII. In considering the proposed modification to Appendix I and any consequential compensatory adjustment, allowance shall be made for the market-opening effects of the removal of government control or influence.”

The revised Agreement has more detailed provisions for modifications and rectifications contained in Article XIX:

Article XIX — Modifications and Rectifications to Coverage Notification of Proposed Modification

“1. A Party shall notify the Committee of any proposed rectification, transfer of an entity from one annex to another, withdrawal of an entity or other modification of its annexes to Appendix I (any of which is hereinafter referred to as ‘modification’). The Party proposing the modification (hereinafter referred to as ‘modifying Party’) shall include in the notification:

“a. for any proposed withdrawal of an entity from its annexes to Appendix I in exercise of its rights on the grounds that government control or influence over the entity’s covered procurement has been effectively eliminated, evidence of such elimination; or

“b. for any other proposed modification, information as to the likely consequences of the change for the mutually agreed coverage provided for in this Agreement.

“Objection to Notification

“2. Any Party whose rights under this Agreement may be affected by a proposed modification notified under paragraph 1 may notify the Committee of any objection to the proposed modification. Such objections shall be made within 45 days from the date of the circulation to the Parties of the notification, and shall set out reasons for the objection.

“Consultations

“3. The modifying Party and any Party making an objection (hereinafter referred to as “objecting Party”) shall make every attempt to resolve the objection through consultations. In such consultations, the modifying and objecting Parties shall consider the proposed modification:

“a. in the case of a notification under paragraph 1(a), in accordance with any indicative criteria adopted pursuant to paragraph 8(b), indicating the effective elimination of government control or influence over an entity’s covered procurement; and

“b. in the case of a notification under paragraph 1(b), in accordance with any criteria adopted pursuant to paragraph 8(c), relating to the level of compensatory adjustments to be offered for modifications, with a view to maintaining a balance of rights and obligations and a comparable level of mutually agreed coverage provided in this Agreement.

“Revised Modification

“4. Where the modifying Party and any objecting Party resolve the objection through consultations, and the modifying Party revises its proposed modification as a result of those consultations, the modifying Party shall notify the Committee in accordance with paragraph 1,and any such revised modification shall only be effective after fulfilling the requirements of this Article.

“Implementation of Modifications

“5. A proposed modification shall become effective only where:

“a. no Party submits to the Committee a written objection to the proposed modification within 45 days from the date of circulation of the notification of the proposed modification under paragraph 1;

“b. all objecting Parties have notified the Committee that they withdraw their objections to the proposed modification; or

“c. 150 days from the date of circulation of the notification of the proposed modification under paragraph 1 have elapsed, and the modifying Party has informed the Committee in writing of its intention to implement the modification.

“Withdrawal of Substantially Equivalent Coverage

“6. Where a modification becomes effective pursuant to paragraph 5(c), any objecting Party may withdraw substantially equivalent coverage. Notwithstanding Article IV:1(b), a withdrawal pursuant to this paragraph may be implemented solely with respect to the modifying Party. Any objecting Party shall inform the Committee in writing of any such withdrawal at least 30 days before the withdrawal becomes effective. A withdrawal pursuant to this paragraph shall be consistent with any criteria relating to the level of compensatory adjustment adopted by the Committee pursuant to paragraph 8(c).

“Arbitration Procedures to Facilitate Resolution of Objections

“7. Where the Committee has adopted arbitration procedures to facilitate the resolution of objections pursuant to paragraph 8, a modifying or any objecting Party may invoke the arbitration procedures within 120 days of circulation of the notification of the proposed modification:

“a. Where no Party has invoked the arbitration procedures within the time-period:

“i. notwithstanding paragraph 5(c), the proposed modification shall become effective where 130 days from the date of circulation of the notification of the proposed modification under paragraph 1 have elapsed, and the modifying Party has informed the Committee in writing of its intention to implement the modification; and

“ii. no objecting Party may withdraw coverage pursuant to paragraph 6.

“b. Where a modifying Party or objecting Party has invoked the arbitration procedures:

“i. notwithstanding paragraph 5(c), the proposed modification shall not become effective before the completion of the arbitration procedures;

“ii. any objecting Party that intends to enforce a right to compensation, or to withdraw substantially equivalent coverage pursuant to paragraph 6, shall participate in the arbitration proceedings;

“iii. a modifying Party should comply with the results of the arbitration procedures in making any modification effective pursuant to paragraph 5(c); and

“iv. where a modifying Party does not comply with the results of the arbitration procedures in making any modification effective pursuant to paragraph 5(c), any objecting Party may withdraw substantially equivalent coverage pursuant to paragraph 6, provided that any such withdrawal is consistent with the result of the arbitration procedures.

“Committee Responsibilities

“8. The Committee shall adopt:

“a. arbitration procedures to facilitate resolution of objections under paragraph 2;

“b. indicative criteria that demonstrate the effective elimination of government control or influence over an entity’s covered procurement; and

“c. criteria for determining the level of compensatory adjustment to be offered for modifications made pursuant to paragraph 1(b) and of substantially equivalent coverage under paragraph 6.”

Likely consultations with trading partners will extend into Biden Administration

Considering the list of other GPA signatories, it is certain that a number of signatories will seek compensation from the United States or will pursue retaliation if the U.S. proposed modifications take effect. Assuming a desire by one or more signatories to seek rebalancing and/or to pursue retaliation, the timing of implementation of the modifications appear to vary based on the relevant Agreement but will almost certain extend into the Biden Administration after January 20.

Thus, while the incoming Biden Administration intends to have its focus on domestic challenges in the early part of its first term, the modification of U.S. WTO GPA commitments is another example of an important trade issue that will require focus in the early days of the new Administration.

Conclusion

During the COVID-19 pandemic there has been concern both within the Trump Administration and in the U.S. Congress about the shortages of personal protective equipment and the high reliance on offshore production of APIs and essential medicines for the treatment of patients with COVID-19 in the United States. The concern on domestic capabilities is held by both Republicans and Democrats and has been identified as an issue of importance to the incoming Biden Administration. While there is opposition from the pharmaceutical companies and certainly concerns from economists and some policy professionals about over reliance on onshoring, the United States has been taking some actions to encourage onshoring. The Executive Order 13944 addresses U.S. government procurement of essential medicines and other medical goods.

Action last week by USTR in submitting proposed modifications to its Annex 1 commitments under the 1994 GPA and the revised GPA is a necessary step to comply with WTO obligations if a change in coverage is to occur. Because of the likely actions of trading partners in the coming weeks and months, the Biden Administration, if it chooses to move forward with the Trump Administration initiative, will face an important WTO task in the early months of the new Administration to negotiate a rebalancing of commitments or face retaliation by WTO GPA partners. Similar obligations and needs will be present in FTAs that include government procurement commitments as well. This increases the importance for the Biden Administration to fill the USTR posts early as well.

Upcoming December 11th WTO Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights meeting — reaction to proposed waiver from TRIPS obligations to address COVID-19

In my post of November 2, 2020, I reviewed a proposed waiver from many TRIPS obligations for all countries to address the COVID-19 pandemic. See November 2, 2020, India and South Africa seek waiver from WTO intellectual property obligations to add COVID-19 – issues presented, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/02/india-and-south-africa-seek-waiver-from-wto-intellectual-property-obligations-to-address-covid-19-issues-presented/. While originally filed by India and South Africa (IP/C/W/669), a few other countries have joined the proposal including Eswatini (IP/C/W/669/Add.1), Kenya (IP/C/W/669/Add.1), Mozambique (IP/C/W/669/Add.2) and Pakistan (IP/C/W/669/Add.3). South Africa made a supplemental filing providing what it described as “Examples of IP Issues and Barriers in COVID-19 pandemic”. Communication from South Africa, Examples of IP Issues and Barriers in COVID-19 Pandemic, IP/C/W/670, 23 November 2020. The South African communication is embedded below.

W670

My post of November 2 had raised a number of question presented by the proposed waiver:

” The proposal raises a series of questions that should be addressed to understand whether the waiver is appropriate. These questions include whether such a broad waiver request is appropriate or envisioned by Article IX:3 and 4 of the Marrakesh Agreement? Shouldn’t those requesting a waiver be required to demonstrate that the existing flexibilities within the TRIPS Agreement are inadequate to address concerns they may have? Can two Members request a waiver of obligations for all WTO Members? Can a waiver request be considered where the product scope is lacking clarity, and the uses/needs of the waiver are very broad and potentially open to differing views? To what extent is there a need for those seeking a waiver to present a factual record of actions being taken by governments, companies and international organizations to provide access to medical goods during the pandemic including to developing and least developed countries? Shouldn’t those seeking a waiver identify the extent of existing licenses by major pharmaceutical companies with them or other WTO Members for the production of vaccines or therapeutics to address COVID-19?”

The supplemental information provided by South Africa identifies various patent pending matters and identifies what it describes as restrictive actions by some companies and some patent litigation by certain companies. As such the communication provides some information of possible relevance in examining the proposed waiver. However, there is little if any information provided on most questions that seem important to an informed discussion of the proposed waiver.

On November 27, Australia, Canada, Chile and Mexico filed a communication entitled “Questions on Intellectual-Property Challenges Experienced by Members in Relation to COVID-19”. IP/C/W/671. While the entire communication is embedded below, paragraphs 3 and 4 are copied below and present a framework for the consideration of the proposed waiver and seek factual answers to a series of questions which would help understand if there are in fact any significant barriers being confronted by WTO Members in addressing the pandemic.

“3. The co-sponsors of this communication remain of the view that these important, challenging, and complex issues merit further reflection and significant consideration, in order to identify any specific and concrete IP-related challenges faced by Members in addressing COVID-19. In addition, we take note that IP rights are one part of a broad discussion informing the availability and accessibility of treatments for COVID-19. Indeed, as the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health emphasizes, the TRIPS Agreement itself is part of the wider national and international effort to address public health problems. With respect to COVID-19, this broader response includes significant investments through procurement mechanisms like the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator and the COVAX Facility and Advance Market Commitment, as well as work within the WTO and elsewhere to safeguard and protect global supply chains.

“4. The co-sponsors of this communication are actively committed to a comprehensive, global
approach that leverages the entire multilateral trading system in place to supporting the research,
development, manufacturing, and distribution of safe and effective COVID-19 diagnostics, equipment, therapeutics, and vaccines. The co-sponsors also reaffirm their support for the TRIPS Agreement, including the flexibilities it provides, and for the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health. In this context, we invite consideration of how the existing legal framework under the TRIPS Agreement, including the flexibilities affirmed under the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health, have operated thus far in the context of Members’ efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic. We are also committed to fully understanding the nature and scope of any concrete IP barriers experienced by Members related to or arising from the TRIPS Agreement, and such that would constitute impediments to the fight against COVID-19. To that end, and with a view to facilitating a consensual, evidence-based approach, the co-sponsors of this communication therefore respectfully submit the following questions to Members for their consideration and response.”

The communication from Australia, Canada, Chile and Mexico then provides eight questions designed to develop a factual record of challenges faced on procurement of products, local production, compulsory licenses, as well as copyright-related challenges, industrial-designs-related challenges, and challenges from undisclosed information. The questions also include an inquiry as to “what specific legal amendments or actions would the proponents seek to enact for the prevention, containment, and treatment of COVID-19 that are not – or may not be – consistent with the TRIPS Agreement and its flexibilities?”

W671

There is a meeting of the Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights scheduled for December 11 at the WTO. It is assumed that the only item on the agenda will be the consideration of the proposed TRIPS waiver submitted by India and South Africa and joined by four other countries. A recommendation should be forwarded to the General Council by December 31. While the proposed waiver may receive support from many WTO Members, it will be opposed by many as well as not justified and undermining the existing WTO TRIPS Agreement and built-in flexibilities. The communication from Australia, Canada, Chile and Mexico provides a possible path forward by seeking to gather factual information that would permit Members to identify what challenges actually exist and what existing tools are available for addressing the existing challenges so that the need for any waiver is limited to what is actually needed instead of being the very broad waiver proposal for all countries regardless of actual problems faced.

As United States continues to set new records in COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations, United States accounts for more than 30% of new cases in last 14 days

The United States has 4.3% of the world’s population but has had one of the worst performances of any country on earth in terms of bringing the virus under control. With 14,371,633 total COVID-19 cases reported in the United States as of December 5, the United States accounts for 21.85% of the total cases in the world (65,777,945). However, during the last fourteen days, the United States 2,457,689 new cases accounted for an astounding 30.47% of global cases (8,066,518). European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, COVID-19 situation update worldwide, as of 5 December 2020. While global cases are now slowly declining, cases in the United States are continuing to increase. And projections are that the number of new cases will continue to rise in the United States in the coming weeks. See, e.g., CNN, December 5, 2020, As hospitals start to max out, medical workers beg officials for new Covid-19 mandates, https://us.cnn.com/2020/12/05/health/us-hospitals-covid-pandemic/index.html.

The latest WHO weekly report (though November 29) shows global cases starting to come down or plateauing with the major exception being the Americas where cases continue to increase. See WHO, COVID-19 Weekly Epidemiological Update (data up to November 29, 2020)

20201201_Weekly_Epi_Update_16

On deaths from COVID-19, the United States has recorded 278,994 from COVID-19 or 18.35% of the world total (1,520,082). Over the last fourteen days, the United States has recorded 24,583 deaths or 16.79% of the world total (146,387). Deaths in Europe have been very high in recent weeks following the extraordinary surge in the last two months in new cases although cases in Europe have been dropping over the last several weeks which should mean declining death totals in Europe in the coming weeks. Deaths in the United States are projected to continue rising and are already around one death every thirty seconds. See, e.g., CNN, November 28, 2020, US is ’rounding the corner into a calamity,’ expert says, with Covid-19 deaths projected to double soon, https://www.cnn.com/2020/11/28/health/us-coronavirus-saturday/index.html. The U.S. Center for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) periodically provides forecasts of deaths from COVID-19 based on various forecasting models. The most recent projections were updated December 3. The four charts below are from the CDC posting. CDC, December 3, 2020, COVID-19 Projections: Death, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/covid-data/forecasting-us.html.

U.S. hospitalizations due to COVID-19 have now topped 100,000 and many states are near or exceeding capacity for ICU beds. On December 4, 2020, The COVID Tracking Project tallied 101,276 U.S. hospitalizations due to COVID. The image below is copied from the COVID Tracking Project webpage and shows current hospitalizations more than 50% higher than prior peaks from April and June/July. https://public.tableau.com/profile/covid.tracking.project#!/vizhome/CTPWebsiteGallery/7_USCHospitalized.

Medical personnel are stretched to the breaking point and recent news stories review the challenges at hospitals with medical staff required to reuse N-95 masks (typically reuse is of masks treated in some way) because of shortages of personal protective equipment. See, e.g., NBC Today, December 5, 2020, NBC News investigation: Nurses say reusing N95 masks feels ‘unsafe’, https://www.today.com/video/nbc-news-investigation-nurses-say-reusing-n95-masks-feels-unsafe-97174085710; NPR, December 3, 2020, ‘We’re All Tired Of This’: Health Care Workers In Seattle Prepare For Another Surge, https://www.npr.org/2020/12/03/940114449/were-all-tired-of-this-health-care-workers-in-seattle-prepare-for-another-surge. Some media reports are indicating that the fallout from COVID-19 on the U.S. medical profession may damage U.S. healthcare for decades with doctors, nurses and other medical professionals opting to withdraw from the field after the exhausting and never ending challenges with COVID-19.

The last week in the United States, COVID-19 became the largest cause of death surpassing heart disease, strokes, etc. See, e.g., CBS News, December 5, 2020, COVID-19 was the leading cause of death in the U.S. this week, report says, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/covid-19-leading-cause-of-death-united-states-this-week/.

There is, of course, the good news of the likely approval for emergency use of several vaccines in the coming weeks in the United States. And there is a projected active rollout of vaccines from later in December through the summer. But there is a long road to actually getting the vast majority of the American population vaccinated, assuming that a change in Administrations will be able to change the views of a skeptical public that the vaccines will be safe. For example, even after the very positive press about the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, only 52% of Americans have indicated a willingness to be vaccinated for COVID-19 (although that is some improvement from earlier views). See Gallup, November 17, 2020, More Americans Now Willing to Get COVID-19 Vaccine,https://news.gallup.com/poll/325208/americans-willing-covid-vaccine.aspx.

Certainly for the first two quarters of 2020 and perhaps longer, the U.S. will be struggling to bring the case count down, take the burden off of the health care system, and reduce the number of deaths as we try to bring life back to some semblance of normal. For the United States, it is certain to be a very dark and challenging winter and at least early Spring. While the current Administration could have significantly changed the challenges for the public and our health care system by having a consistent and uniform message to have the public wear masks and do the other steps needed to reduce the spread of the virus, the Trump Administration has opted not to do that. The Biden Administration is 46 days from taking office. We are likely to suffer more than 100,000 additional deaths by then. A tragic outcome for a pandemic that should have been far more manageable.

World COVID-19 pandemic peaks on November 26 and starts to slowly recede

The most recent surge in COVID-19 cases (up from 3.57 million cases over a fourteen day period in early August to over 5 million for fourteen days on October 22 to over 8 million new cases for fourteen days on November 17), seems to have peaked on November 26 with 8,296,264 new cases over fourteen days and has been slowly receding for the last three days, down to 8,142,629 new cases during the period November 16-29. Total cases since the end of December 2019 now stand at 62,271,031 as of November 29 according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) publication “COVID-19 situation update worldwide, as of 29 November 2020”.

The World Health Organization puts out a publication that tracks cases and deaths on a weekly basis. COVID-19 Weekly Epidemiological Update (data as of 22 November). While it breaks countries and territories into different configuarations that the ECDC, the publication shows new cases in the period November 16-22 declining 6% in Europe and in South East Asia while increasing 11% in the Americas, 5% in the Eastern Mediterranean, 15% in Africa and 9% in the Western Pacific. Because of the large spike in cases in the September – November period in many parts of the world, deaths in the November 16-22 period increased in all regions — up 10% in Europe, 15% in the Americas, 4% in South-East Asia, 10% in the Eastern Mediterranean, 30% in Africa and 1% in the Western Pacific. The latest report is embedded below.

20201124_Weekly_Epi_Update_15

The graphs in the WHO publication show by region the trajectory of new cases and deaths over time. The chart showing aggregate data show a flattening of total new cases in the last weeks of November while the number of deaths globally are sharply increasing.

The WHO Africa region peaked in the summer and has declined until the last few weeks when there has been some increase in both cases and deaths.

The Americas saw a peak in both new cases and deaths in the July period with some declines in new cases until the second half of September when the current surge started and accelerated in November. Deaths declined until early October before starting to grow again.

The Eastern Mediterranean peaked in May-June for both cases and deaths, declined through August/September and have surged to new heights with continued upward trajectory as of November 22.

The WTO European Region had an early surge of cases and deaths in the March-April period. Deaths receded sharply through August. While new cases have increased since summer, there was a massive increase in the September – end of October period in new cases and rising deaths through November.

The WHO South-East Asia region saw a huge increase in cases and deaths in the May-August period, peaking in early September and declining since then. Much of the data for the region reflect activity in India.

The Western Pacific Region has had several peaks in terms of deaths and in new cases, though the numbers are the lowest of any WHO region. The latest peak in new cases was in early August with some increase in the October-November period. Deaths last peaked in early September and have declined through November.

The United States

Turning back to the ECDC data, the United States continues to have more confirmed cases (13,246,651) than any other nation and more confirmed deaths from COVID-19 (266,063) than any other nation. The United States is also still experiencing a surge in new cases and rising deaths. October 31 was the first day that ECDC data show the U.S. recording 100,000 new cases in a single day. Since November 5, the U.S. has had more than 100,000 new cases every day up to November 29. It is the only country to record one million new cases in a week and the only country to record two million new cases in fourteen days. For the last fourteen days, the U.S. recorded 2,341,760 new cases. The U.S., which accounts for 4.3% of the global population, accounts for 21.27% of all COVID-19 cases that have been reported since December 2019 and accounted for 28.76% of new cases in the last two weeks. The rate of increase remains high for the United States — up 31.67% from the 1,778,530 new cases in the two weeks ending November 15. There are concerns that the number of new cases will continue to increase into the new year based on the high rate of infections in many parts of the country, major potential spreading events around holidays in November (Thanksgiving) and December, and limited compliance with basic requirements for limiting the spread of the virus.

The number of deaths from COVID-19 that the U.S. accounts for has declined from roughly 20% to 18.30% as of November 29. In the last two week, while the U.S. has the largest number of deaths in the two weeks, the percent of total deaths accounted for by the U.S. in the November 16-29 period was 14.65%. However, many cities, communities and even states are at or nearing the limits of the health care capacity with hospitalizations now about 90,000, limits on health care professionals with the surging cases and some challenges on personal protective equipment. Thus, models used by the government projects a continued rise in the number of deaths in the coming months.

While the first vaccine could receive emergency approval for distribution in the U.S. as early as December 10, and the U.S. could have two or three vaccines in distribution in early 2021, the United States will unfortunately likely be a major part of the continued high rate of infections and deaths well into 2021.

Europe

While Europe had faced early challenges in a number of western European countries in February-April and very high death rates in a number of countries, the second wave of cases following the relaxation of restrictions in time for summer vacations accounted for the vast majority of the incrase in new cases during the October and early November time period. In earlier posts, I showed that Europe and the U.S. accounted for nearly all of the increase from 5 million new cases in the two weeks ending October 22 to the more than 8 million new cases in the two weeks ending November 17. See November 17, 2020, New COVID-19 cases over a fourteen day period continue to soar past eight million, up from five million on October 22, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/17/new-covid-19-cases-over-a-fourteen-day-period-continue-to-soar-past-eight-million-up-from-five-million-on-october-22/

While some of the major countries, including France, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom and others have seen significant reductions in the number of new cases in recent weeks from the extraordinary figures recorded in late October, early November, numbers remain very high for a number of countries including Poland, Portugal, Serbia, Croatia, Hungary, Lithuania and Luxembourg — all of whom had new cases/100,000 population in the last fourteen days that were higher than the United States.

Because deaths lag new cases by a number of weeks, it is perhaps less surprising that much of Europe had deaths/100,000 population in the last fourteen days that were higher than the United States, most at rates that were two-three times the U.S. rate. The rate for the world in total was 1.82 deaths per 100,000 population for the November 16-29 period. The U.S. was 3.38 times the global average at 6.22 deaths per 100,000 population in that two week period. The following 25 European countries exceeded the U.S. rate: France (11.76 deaths/100,000 population); Italy (16.04); Spain (8.31); United Kingdom (9.40); Armenia (12.81); Austria (13.47); Belgium (18.84); Moldova (6.50); Poland (16.65); Portugal (10.30); Romania (11.50); Serbia (7.11); Switzerland (14.98); Bulgaria (23.69); Croatia (15.92); Czechia (18.74); Greece (11.08); Hungary (16.12); Lithuania (8.12); Luxembourg (13.19); Malta (6.79); Slovenia (19.85); Bosnia and Herzegovina (20.75); Georgia (13.19); and North Macedonia (20.12).

With new restrictions in recent weeks bringing new cases down in a number of European countries, death rates should start to decline as well in the coming weeks. Challenges in terms of superspreader events in Europe include holiday travel and events and winter holidays and sports. Germany has proposed placing restrictions on the ski season to try to minimize increased cases from a sport popular across much of Europe. See DW, 26 November 2020, Coronavirus: Germany seeks EU-wide ban on ski trips, https://www.dw.com/en/coronavirus-germany-seeks-eu-wide-ban-on-ski-trips/a-55732273.

The EU has contracts with at least six pharmaceutical companies or groups for vaccines if approved. The EU and United Kingdom will start to see vaccine dosages within weeks assuming approval in their jurisdictions.

Other countries

While much of the rest of the world has not seen great increases in the number of cases that is not true for all countries. For example, Iran which had 136,753 new cases in the November 2-15 period showed 186,274 new cases in the November 16-29 period (+36.21%). Jordan, which has a total number of cases of 210,709 since the end of December has recorded 65.54% of that total in the last four weeks (68,698 new cases during November 2-15; 69,404 new cases during November 16-29). Similarly, Morocco which has a total of 349,688 cases since December 2019 has more than 37% recorded in the last four weeks (69,127 during November 2-15; 61,477 during November 16-29).

In the Americas the following countries in addition to the United States have two week totals to November 29 greater than 100,000 new cases: Argentina (108,531); Brazil (441,313); Colombia (108,609). The following countries besides the United States have more than one million cases since late December 2019: Argentina (1,413,362); Brazil (6,290,272); Colombia (1,299,613), Mexico (1,100,683). Eleven other countries have more than 100,000 cases (with Peru having 960,368). Other than the U.S., countries are facing different trend lines, many down, some showing increases (e.g., Brazil, Canada, Dominican Republic, Paraguay).

In Asia, while India continues to see declines in the number of new cases, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Palestine, South Korea, showed increased in the most recent two weeks, some quite large. This is in addition to Iran reviewed previously.

In Africa, South Africa has the most cases and saw an increase from 23,730 new cases during November 2-15 to 35,967 during November 16-29. Morocco was reviewed above. Most other major countries in Africa saw declines in recent weeks.

Conclusion

The world in the first eleven months of 2020 has struggled to get the COVID-19 pandemic under control with several major surge periods. The global number of new cases seems to have plateaued over the last week or so at extraordinarily high levels and the death rates has been climbing after a long period where deaths appeared to be declining. It is likely that the death rate will continue to increase for the rest of 2020.

After a period during the summer and early fall where restrictions in a number of countries were being relaxed, many countries in the norther hemisphere are reimposing various restrictions in an effort to dampen the spread of the coronavirus. While trade has significantly rebounded from the sharp decline in the second quarter of 2020, services trade remains more than 30% off of 2019 levels driven by the complete collapse of international travel and tourism. Many WTO members have put forward communications on actions that could be considered to speed economic recovery. The most recent was the Ottawa Group’s communication about a possible Trade and Health Initiative. See November 27, 2020, The Ottawa Group’s November 23 communication and draft elements of a trade and health initiative, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/27/the-ottawa-groups-november-23-communication-and-draft-elements-of-a-trade-and-health-initiative/.

The WTO TRIPS Council has a request for a waiver from most TRIPS obligations for all WTO Members on medical goods and medicines relevant to COVID-19 on which a recommendation is supposed to be forwarded to the General Council by the end of 2020 though it is opposed by a number of major Members with pharmaceutical industries. See November 2, 2020, India and South Africa seek waiver from WTO intellectual property obligations to add COVID-19 – issues presented, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/02/india-and-south-africa-seek-waiver-from-wto-intellectual-property-obligations-to-address-covid-19-issues-presented/.

With vaccines very close to approval in major markets like the United States and the European Union, there will be increased focus on efforts to ensure availability of vaccines and therapeutics and diagnostics globally on equitable and affordable terms. GAVI, CEPI and the WHO have been leading this initiative with the support of many governments and private sector players. Pharmaceutical companies also have global distribution plans being pursued in addition to the above efforts.

So there hopefully is light at the end of the tunnel that the COVID-19 pandemic has imposed on the world. But vaccines without vaccinations won’t solve the pandemic’s grip. So communication and outreach globally will be critical to seeing that available vaccines are properly used. And all peoples need to be able to access the vaccines, some of which will be less available simply because of the infrastructure needs to handle the vaccines.

Trade policy options to minimize trade restrictions coupled with global cooperation and coordination should result in the world being able to rebuild in 2021 and beyond as more and more of the world is vaccinated.

Multilateral efforts to help the poorest countries deal with debt, make available trade finance and other actions continue to be a pressing need. Better plans and preparation for pandemics of the future are clearly needed. Reports suggest that many of the poorest countries have experienced loss of a decade or more of economic advancement during the pandemic. Building back greener and in a sustainable manner is critical for all.

The efforts of developed country governments and others to provide the stimulus domestically to reduce the downward spiral of the individual national economies and the global economy has been critical to limiting the damage at home and abroad. But the assumption of large amounts of debt will also pose significant challenges moving forward because of the greatly heightened national debt/GDP ratios that have developed and may restrict options for individual governments moving forward.

What is certain is that 2020 will be remembered as a year in which a virus inflicted enormous damage to the global health and to the global economy. Collectively, the level of spread has been far greater than should have been possible. Many nations were not prepared. Some, like the United States, exacerbated the problems through a lack of national government planning and messaging. Others like many in Europe, having done a good job of controlling the spread in the early months, made major mistakes as they opened up for summer vacations and didn’t deal with the problems that resulted from the reopening and experienced breathtaking surges which roughly doubled the global daily rate of new cases in five-six weeks and have led to the reimposition of a series of restrictions to try to tame the pandemic a second time. We collectively are better than the results achieved to date. The number of deaths in advanced countries is simply disgraceful.

2021 offers the opportunity for the world to come together and put COVID-19 behind us. Whether we will come to the end of 2021 and feel that this global nightmare is behind us and that there are national and global game plans to rebuild in a greener and more sustainable manner with greater opportunities for all is the question. Hopefully, the answer will be yes.

The Ottawa Group’s November 23 Communication and Draft Elements of a “Trade and Health” Initiative

On Monday, Novemer 23, Canada hosted a virtual meeting of the Ottawa Group on WTO reform. The Group includes Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, the European Union, Japan, Kenya, Republic of Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore and Switzerland. Deputy Director-General Alan Wolff provided comments and urged the Members to “translate their statements about reforms to global trade rules into formal proposals and concrete requests at the WTO.” WTO, 23 November 2020, DDG Wolff calls on Ottawa Group to table formal reform proposals at WTO, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/igo_23nov20_e.htm. DDG Wolff provided seven options for the consideration of the Ottawa Group on WTO reform, the first four of which used trade and health as one example.

“First, an observation: the game must be in play for key players to conclude that they have to join. If negotiations are not under way, there may be a substantial delay in attracting participation.

“Declarations, such as on trade and health, should be turned into formal proposals as soon as possible and should be embraced by all WTO members.

“And if some Members won’t come along or seek to delay — a joint initiative is a practical way to proceed and could then be launched as a priority. The time of testing should not be so long as to make a response to the pandemic arrive too late to be responsive to the current crisis.

“Second, Members can ask the WTO Secretariat for and receive support for evaluations of aspects of WTO reform. For example, on trade and health, Members can —

“Request the Secretariat to upgrade its COVID-19-related trade monitoring activities to collect and publish the best information available, not relying solely on notifications and verification. (This would be a more comprehensive and in-depth activity than that which takes place at present, which in itself was an upgrade from pre-COVID monitoring.)

“Request the Secretariat to work with the WHO, relevant UN agencies and other stakeholders, to highlight trade issues affecting vaccine production and availability, and to propose ways to eliminate obstacles. (This would go beyond existing activities and result in proposals put to the WTO Member- ship).

“Third, Members can

“Propose that the Director General convene a small, representative, ambassador-level group of Friends of Trade and Health to identify how the trading system has performed during the pandemic and to issue preliminary conclusions and recommendations for useful changes in approach within a short, defined timeline.

“Propose that the WTO Secretariat embark now upon the necessary supporting work without delay.

“Propose that the Director General constitute other ‘Friends’ groups to advance consideration of institutional reform and other issues of current importance, and providing possible solutions, such as with respect to the relationship to current and future WTO Agreements of the Paris Accord on Climate Change, the disciplining of fossil fuel subsidies, addressing border adjustments likely with the adoption of carbon taxes, assessing the impact on markets of subsidies and other state interventions, employing trade to reduce income inequality, making the WTO more effective for economic development within and among Member economies, improving the trading system with respect to women in trade, providing WTO support for the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, and more generally strategic foresight.

“G20 Members clearly want to enhance preparedness for future pandemics and other crises. Flexible groups with appropriate balance but able to be nimble and responsive are one way to supplement but not supplant the work of committees and joint statement initiatives (JSIs).

‘Propose that an ad hoc horizontal mechanism be created promptly in the event of crises to address — in real time — trade measures that are of concern. The mechanism, similar to trade policy reviews, but not limited to any single WTO Member’s measures, trade restrictive and trade liberalizing, should be constituted immediately for the current pandemic and economic recovery measures.

“Fourth, Members can

“Propose that the signatories of the Pharmaceutical Agreement providing for duty-free trade be updated (last done in 2010), that major nonsigna- tories join and that essential medical supplies be added to the coverage.

“Propose that the signatories of the Information Technology Agreement review and update its coverage, including adding medical equipment.

“Propose that negotiations on the Environmental Goods Agreement re-start in earnest now, with the addition of services.”

The Ottawa Group agreed to put forward a communication seeking action by WTO Members. Each of Canada and the EU (and likely other members) put out press releases. See, e.g., Government of Canada, November 23, 2020, Minister Ng hosts successful ministerial meeting of the Ottawa Group on WTO reform, https://www.canada.ca/en/global-affairs/news/2020/11/minister-ng-hosts-successful-ministerial-meeting-of-the-ottawa-group-on-wto-reform.html; European Commission, Directorate-General for Trade, 23 November 2020, Ottawa Group proposes a global Trade and Health Initiative, https://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/press/index.cfm?id=2215&title=Ottawa-Group-proposes-a-global-Trade-and-Health-Initiative.

The Canadian press release states in part, “As countries face a rise in COVID-19 cases, it is essential that governments minimize disruptions to trade flows in essential medical supplies. Today, members of the Ottawa Group took important steps toward a proposed WTO Trade and Health Initiative, which identifies short-term actions to strenghten supply chains and ensure the free flow of medicines and medical supplies.”

Similarly the European Commission press release stated that –

Today the Ottawa Group, a group of 13 like-minded World Trade Organisation (WTO) partners including the EU, agreed today on an initiative, calling on the WTO members to increase their cooperation and work toward enhanced global rules to facilitate trade in essential medical goods. The agreement took place as an outcome of the Ottawa Group Ministerial meeting, hosted virtually by Minister Mary Ng of Canada.

“The Ottawa Group members called for immediate actions in response to the coronavirus crisis such as exercising a restraint in using any export restrictions, implementing trade-facilitating measures in the area of customs and services, as well as improving transparency.

“They also called for further cooperation amongst members, and between the WTO and other international organisations.

“The group also encourages WTO members to refrain from imposing tariffs on essential medical goods during the crisis. Such actions are intended to strengthen the resilience of supply chains and contribute to an effective response to a public health emergency. They can serve as a basis for future permanent commitments on trade in essential medical goods.

“Commission Executive Vice President and Commissioner for Trade Valdis Dombrovskis said: ‘We are proud to promote this trade and health initiative. It aims to encourage stronger global cooperation at WTO level, by facilitating trade in healthcare products. This is critical in the current global health crisis and will also help us in future. But the Ottawa Group trade and health initiative is just the first step. Going forward, the EU will work to promote resilient global healthcare systems, as well as accessible and affordable healthcare products universally.’

“The communication will now be submitted later this week to the WTO secretariat, before being presented to the WTO General Council for discussion. It will be used to prepare the 12th Ministerial Conference of the WTO, due to be held in 2021.”

That same day, November 23, the Ottawa Group submitted to the WTO a communication entitled “COVID-19 and beyond: Trade and Health”. WT/GC/223 (24 November 2020). The document is embedded below.

223

The communication is ten paragraphs plus an Annex which is described as “Draft Elements of a ‘Trade and Health’ Initiative”. The communication reviews the social and economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and invites “all WTO Members to start working on a Trade and Health Initiative” referencing the Annex. Paragraph 6 of the communication summarizes the specific actions being proposed.

“6. With this objective in mind, we call on WTO Members to make their utmost efforts to prevent further disruptions in the supply chains of essential medical goods. As set out in the Annex to this Communication, we propose specific actions relating to export restrictions, trade facilitation,
technical regulations, tariffs, transparency and review, and call for the WTO to enhance its cooperation with other relevant international organizations, such as WHO, WCO, OECD as well as G20, given the context of the on-going evaluations of the global response to COVID-19. These proposed actions are not intended to be prescriptive and do not cover the universe of possible
measures that could support trade in essential medical goods. Rather, they reflect emerging best practices and should provide sufficient flexibility to be adapted to differing national circumstances.”

The Ottawa Group is hoping to get the support of all Members on a joint statement early in 2021 on a Trade and Health Initiative which could serve as a starting point for negotiations for new WTO commitments at the 12th Ministerial Conference in the summer of 2021 in Kazakhstan.

On export restrictions, the Annex calls for greater oversight of such restrictions without eliminating them outright.

On customs, services and technical regulations, the Annex calls for Members to share information and experiences on best practices in trade facilitation during a crisis (customs procedures, services (including freight, logistics, distribution and transport)) and on standards and technical requirements looking towards regulatory alignment.

On tariffs, the Annex calls on Members to “make best endeavours to temporarily remove or reduce tariffs on goods that are considered essential to fighting COVID-19 pandemic”.

On transparency and review, the Annex calls on Members to enhance transparency during the pandemic with the aim of identifying supply chain disruptions and avoiding such disruptions.

On the topic of cooperation of the WTO with other organizations, the Annex both encourages the WTO Secretariat to continue it outreach on measures related to COVID-19 and the studies developed by the Secretariat with a focus “on the causes and effects of the disruptions in the supply chains of essential goods and drawing on research of other international organizations.” The WTO Director-General is also encouraged to “intensify cooperation” with other organizations (including the G20) to improve “the analytical capacity of Members to monitor market developments in trade and production of essential medical goods.”

Finally, the Annex asks Members to review the effectiveness of the identified elements at the 12th Ministerial Conference “with a view to adopting possible commitments regarding trade in essential medical goods.”

Conclusion

There have been many communications put forward by different groups of Members at the WTO in the last eight months on actions that would make sense in terms of limiting export restraints on medical goods or avoiding such restraints on agricultural goods, about the need for effective trade facilitation measures to reduce barriers to movement of medical goods, and on other topics related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Ottawa Group’s communication from Monday is an effort to come up with an early possible deliverable that could garner broad WTO Member support. As a result it seeks a joint statement with agreement on the statement for early 2021. The Group also provides five draft proposals for such a joint statement. The proposals don’t eliminate existing flexibility (e.g., export restraints) but try to tighten disciplines via increased transparency. The proposals encourage development of best practices on a range of trade facilitation and regulatory alignment issues. The proposals also encourage what is obviously in most Members self-interest — reducing or eliminating tariffs on medical goods during the pandemic. The proposals also call on Members to do a better job on transparency on measure taken during the pandemic with a focus on identifying disruptions to supply chains and addressing the same in short order. Finally, while the WTO already cooperates with other organizations, the proposals point to specific areas where enhanced cooperation would be helpful.

In an organization where Members have a low level of trust in each other, a joint statement on the need for a Trade and Health Initiative such as proposed by the Ottawa Group is probably all that can be achieved in the short term. Something along the lines outlined in the Annex would indeed be a confidence builder if achieved early in 2021. The ability to review developments at the 12th Ministerial and start negotiations on trade in essential medical goods at that time will also be important if accomplished. The more ambitious options presented by DDG Wolff should be considered but realistically are unlikely to either happen or get started ahead of the 12th Ministerial.

Let’s hope that the WTO membership can come together to support the Ottawa Group proposal. The EC has indicated that the Communication will be taken up at the December General Council meeting. That will be an early opportunity to see if there is likely to broad support for the initiative.

G20 Leaders’ Declaration, 22 November 2020

The two day Leaders’ Summit of the G20, chaired in 2020 by Saudi Arabia, ended yesterday with the issuance of a Leaders’ Declaration. https://g20.org/en/media/Documents/G20%20Riyadh%20Summit%20Leaders%20Declaration_EN.pdf. The twelve page document is embedded below.

G20-Riyadh-Summit-Leaders-Declaration_EN

Yesterday, I had put up a post that looked at the WTO’s Deputy Director-General Alan Wolff’s statement to the G20 on important measures needed in the trade arena to help with responding to the global health pandemic, economic recovery and WTO reform. See November 22, 2020, DDG Wolff’s comments to G20 on immediate challenges for trade to address economic rebound from the pandemic and for WTO reform, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/22/ddg-wolffs-comments-to-g20-on-immediate-challenges-for-trade-to-address-economic-rebound-from-the-pandemic-and-for-wto-reform/. The activities of the G20 are far broader than simply the trade issues reviewed in yesterday’s post and much of the Declaration looks at various aspects of addressing recovery from the pandemic, including access to vaccines and therapeutics. However, on the trade agenda in particular identified by DDG Wolff, the G20 does not appear to have addressed the issue of trade finance for developing and least developed countries, did not call for creating duty free treatment for all pharmaceuticals and medical goods relevant to the COVID-19 pandemic, and while supportive of WTO reform did not provide specifics or a sense of time urgency. The Declaration contains 38 paragraphs broken in four sections. Many deal with topics that are being examined in part at the WTO (e.g., digital trade) or that may be going forward (e.g., environment, climate change). There was only one paragraph on trade and investment (para. 12) (under section “B. Building a Resilient and Long-Lasting Recovery”). The paragraph reads as follows:

“12. Trade and Investment: Supporting the multilateral trading system is now as important as ever. We strive to realize the goal of a free, fair, inclusive, non-discriminatory, transparent, predictable, and stable trade and investment environment, and to keep our markets open. We will continue to work to ensure a level playing field to foster an enabling business environment. We endorse the G20 Actions to Support World Trade and Investment in Response to COVID-19. We recognize the contribution that the Riyadh Initiative on the Future of the World Trade Organization (WTO) has made by providing an additional opportunity to discuss and reaffirm the objectives and foundational principles of the multilateral trading system as well as to demonstrate our ongoing political support for the necessary reform of the WTO, including in the lead up to the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference. We recognize the need to increase the sustainability and resilience of national, regional, and global supply chains that foster the sustainable integration of developing and least developed countries into the trading system, and share the objective of promoting inclusive economic growth including through increased participation of micro-, small-, medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) in international trade and investment. We note that structural problems in some sectors, such as excess capacities, can cause a negative impact.”

The G20 Declaration in paragraph 3 provides a statement indicating G20 members “will spare no effort to ensure * * * affordable and equitable access for all people, consistent with members’ commitments to incentivize innovation,” to COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines. The paragraph refers to the efforts of the “Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) initiative and its COVAX facility,” and commits G20 members “to addressing the remaining global financing needs.” While obviously encouraging, the financing needs that remain are large both for vaccines and for testing and treatment. Total additional funding needs approach $40 billion. See Statement by President von der Leyen at the joint press conference with President Michel ahead of the G20 Summit, Brussels, 20 November 2020, https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/STATEMENT_20_2170. Such contributions are voluntary and substantially exceed what has been pledged or received to date. So time will tell whether G20 countries actually fulfil the general commitment included in yesterday’s declaration.

The New York Times in an article on November 22 headlined “G20 Summit Closes With Little Progress and Big Gaps Between Trump and Allies,” describes the large number of topics where the current U.S. Administration has been at odds with many of the other G20 leaders and the resulting challenges to meaningful joint action as opposed to “general appeals for more global cooperation” and for “affordable and equitable access” to vaccines and therapeutics. New York Times, Nov. 22, 2020, G20 Summit Closes With Little Progress and Big Gaps Between Trump and Allies, ahttps://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/22/us/politics/g20-summit-trump.html. While the Trump Administration undoubtedly has contributed to the lack of greater specifics in the Declaration, there are undoubtedly strong differences among different G20 members on what commitments should be undertaken that involve G20 members specifically.

Conclusion

The G20 process has been important over the last decade or so in mobilizing the world’s leading nations to provide leadership to address global challenges. The success of the group’s efforts depends on leadership of the majors and a common understanding of the challenges at hand. There are structural challenges in the current G20 configuration with different economic models and different levels of economic development providing points of conflict as well as points of expanded understanding of global needs. The challenges have been exacerbated by the concerns of the current U.S. Administration with multilateral organizations and with whether climate change is an actual problem.

With the current internal friction points, the G20 has nonetheless put forward a largely united front in seeking to meet the challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic and economic shocks through collaboration and to seek to rebuild more sustainably and more inclusively. The lack of specifics in some areas may be better addressed under a new U.S. Administration’s participation with the expected closer ties the Biden Administration will have with at least many of the G20 members.

In the trade arena, the conflicts within the WTO are not likely to go away with a new U.S. Administration. That doesn’t mean that U.S. leadership couldn’t permit rapid movement on a number of issues that would be helpful in addressing the pandemic and the global economic recovery. But WTO reform and even singular issues like updated coverage by the Pharmaceutical Agreement or the elimination of tariffs on medical goods unfortunately are likely to take way too long to be helpful in the current pandemic. That leaves voluntary actions by countries in their own interest as the likely option most likely to provide some improved market access during the pandemic.