Selecting a new WTO Director-General — “the game is afoot”; Mexico’s Jesus Seade Kuri is the first nominee

June 8, 2020 is the start of the one month process for WTO Members to put forward a nomination of a national to be considered for the position of the next Director-General. All nominations must be submitted to the Chair of the General Council by the close of business (Geneva time) on July 8. Using a term first expressed by Shakespeare in King Henry IV Part I but probably better known as uttered by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, “the game is afoot”.

There is little doubt that the selection of the next Director-General of the WTO will be important for an organization struggling from major divisions within its membership on direction, need for reform, and ensuring continued relevance while looking for collective action during the COVID-19 pandemic to facilitate trade and minimize the damage to Member and global economies.

In prior posts, I reviewed the general procedures that the WTO will follow in conducting the selection process and thoughts on how to expedite the selection process if WTO Members want to find a replacement before the current Director-General departs at the end of August. See World Trade Organization – Search for a new Director-General, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/05/15/world-trade-organization-search-for-a-new-director-general/; WTO selection of a new Director-General – one individual from a developed country previously reviewed could shorten the process, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/05/19/wto-selection-of-a-new-director-general-one-individual-from-a-developed-country-previously-reviewed-could-shorten-the-process/.

Potential nominees

The WTO Secretariat will be posting the names of nominees and their CVs as they are received. As of 5:15 p.m. Geneva time on June 8th, the WTO had listed the first nomination to be received, Jesus Seade Kuri nominated by Mexico. https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/dgsel_mex_08jun20_e.htm.

Jesus Seade is a former Ambassador to the GATT, a former Deputy Director-General at the WTO and recently involved in concluding the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement as Deputy Secretary for North America. Press from earlier today noted his nomination.https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-06-08/mexico-to-nominate-seade-as-its-wto-candidate-el-universal; https://business.financialpost.com/pmn/business-pmn/mexico-to-nominate-seade-as-its-wto-candidate-el-universal. The WTO news contains his CV which is embedded below.

bio_mex_e

Information on other potential nominees is from press or other sources and doesn’t reflect information on actual nominations received by the WTO by the afternoon of June 8.

Press accounts over the weekend indicate that Nigeria has changed their desired candidate from Yonov Frederick Agah (currently one of the WTO’s Deputy Director-Generals) to Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former Nigerian finance minister and former World Bank official. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-06-05/nigeria-nominates-okonjo-iweala-as-wto-director-general.

At least two other African officials are being considered by the African Union, a candidate from Egypt, Hamid Mamdouh, and a candidate from Benin, Eloi Laourou. Mr. Mamdouh is a former WTO Secretariat Director of the Trade in Services and Investment Division and now working for a law firm. https://www.kslaw.com/people/abdelhamid-mamdouh. He also has a webpage being developed for any run for Director-General with a media kit. https://hamid-mamdouh.com/. H.E. Mr. Eloi Laourou is the current Benin Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the WTO (and to UN entities in Geneva).

It appears that the African Union will be holding a meeting by video- conference this week in an effort to see if there is agreement on one candidate for the African Union countries.

European countries are also considering potential candidates including possibly European Commissioner for Trade Phil Hogan (Ireland) and Spain’s Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez (she previously served as Chef de Cabinet for Director-General Pascal Lamy). See, e.g., https://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/phil-hogan-exploring-idea-of-wto-director-general-role-1.4266073; https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-05-23/spain-foreign-minister-gonzalez-favorite-to-lead-wto-wiwo-says.

And there will undoubtedly be more Members considering whether to nominate an individual to be considered in the selection process.

The process is intended to focus first on qualifications, and then if there are equally qualified individuals, “Members … shall take into consideration as one of the factors the desirability of reflecting the diversity of the WTO’s membership in successive appointments to the post of Director-General”. WT/L/509 para. 13. For example, no individual from Africa has previously served as the Director-General (“DG”) of the WTO.

Other factors besides geographical location of the nominee could be whether the nominee is from a developed or developing country and whether the candidate is male or female.

Press has indicated that the EU is seeking a developed country DG in light of the fact that the last DG is from a developing country (Brazil). Indeed, the last four DGs have rotated between developed and developing country nominees. Other developed countries (besides EU members) would include the United Kingdom, Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, Canada, United States, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and possibly a few others. The United States has never put up a candidate and is unlikely to do so this time either, but has apparently communicated with Australia a desire to broaden the group of candidates.

As all WTO DGs up to the present have been male, if there are equally qualified male and female candidates, this may be a factor considered by Members.

Expediting the process?

Press accounts indicate an expressed desire to find a replacement for DG Azevedo by the end of August. This seems a nearly impossible objective in light of travel limitations from efforts to control the pandemic, the likely number of candidates and the normal closure of the WTO to most business during the month of August.

But the agreed procedures do permit expedition of the process if agreed by the Members. WT/L/509 para. 23.

It is understood that the General Council meeting with all candidates may be held the week immediately after the close of the receipt of nominations, i.e., the week of July 13. If correct, this approach would have this step occur three weeks earlier than the comparable timing during the 2012-2013 DG selection process when the General Council meeting happened January 29-31 after the nomination process concluded on December 31.

Whether other steps to expedite the process are possible will depend on the will of the Members, limited by the obligation “to be guided by the best interests of the Organization, respect for the dignity of the candidates and the Members nominating them, and by full transparency and inclusiveness at all stages.” Appointment of the Next Director-General, Communication from the Chairman of the General Council to Members, JOB/GC/230 (20 May 2020).

An obvious area where time could be saved would be the three month time frame that candidates have to get themselves known to Members. With travel limitations, meetings with Members in Geneva and in capitals will presumably have to happen virtually. It is possible that governments could agree to a one month period for such outreach by candidates but would require availability of Missions and of officials in capitals with an interest to meet the candidates. If handled during the first month of the post-nomination process, this would suggest conclusion by August 8 (with possible frontloading of meetings for Members who will not extend general operations into August).

If handled on such an expedited basis, the Chairman of the General Council and his two facilitators could do “confessionals” during August to reduce the field of candidates to the one deemed most likely to achieve consensus by the end of the month with a General Council meeting set for Friday, August 28 to permit confirmation of the candidate (if consensus is achieved). Such an timeline would permit a new DG to be confirmed one business day before the departure of DG Azevedo.

To achieve such an outcome, either WTO Members would need to remain in Geneva during August or permanent representatives would need to be reachable and able to provide input during the month and all would need to be amenable to participating in the GC meeting (possibly remotely for some) at the end of August.

If such expedition is not possible, then Para. 23 of the procedures (WT/L/509) calls for the selection by consensus of an acting Director-General from among the four current Deputy Directors-General.

If the full six months to a decision are needed, this would suggest the General Counsel meeting in early December to meet the December 8 timeline. Nothing in the procedures requires a new Director-General to wait three months after confirmation before taking up the position when there is a vacancy/use of an Acting Director-General.

Of course, the objective for the selection process is consensus. While voting is an option, if there were failure to achieve a consensus through the procedures agreed to in 2002, Members could continue to meet with the Chairman of the General Counsel and his facilitators to attempt to achieve consenus. They could also take the extraordinary step of voting although such an approach on a new Director-General would likely have significant negative effects from the imposition of a DG opposed by some significant part of the membership.

Conclusion

As the game is now afoot for the selection of a new Director-General, one can expect a lot of energy of trade officials to be diverted in coming weeks to examining the candidates and choosing preferred candidates. It is clear that there will be a significant number of candidates put forward in the coming weeks which will complicate the ability to expedite the selection process. WTO Members could significantly expedite the process if willing to telescope meetings with candidates virtually and remaining available for decisions and confessionals during August.

We should know in a few weeks whether Members have agreed to a process to find a new DG before DG Azevedo departs or whether there will be some period of time where an acting DG is needed.

COVID-19 – continued global growth of cases; shift continues to Latin America, parts of Asia and the Middle East

Four months after COVID-19 peaked in China, where the virus started, the world continues to stagger under an expanding case load of confirmed COVID-19 cases. Indeed, in the last two weeks new cases around the world have increased by 1.567 million to reach a current global total since the end of December of 6.835 million as of June 7. These number compare to less than 55,000 global cases (nearly all in China) in early February. During the last two weeks, new confirmed cases increased 22.32% from the prior two weeks and continue a chain of unbroken increases since the beginning of March.

As much of the developed world has seen a peak in the number of cases, the continued growth in new cases reflects shifting centers or hot spots generally to developing countries. In looking at 25 countries that have accounted for more than 80% of all cases through June 7, ten of these countries have not yet reached a peak — Brazil, Chile, Egypt, India, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, South Africa — while the other fifteen have peaked and seen declines from peak of between 10% and 99%. These fifteen countries are Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Taiwan, Turkey, United Kingdom and the United States. Still these 25 countries saw a combined increase in total new cases of 18.7% in the last fourteen days. All other countries saw a much larger increase in new cases, 39.61% from 220,812 cases the previous 14 days to 308,293. Some countries of note in this “all other” grouping include Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Guatemala, Haiti, Venezuela, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Iraq, Nepal, Oman, Qatar, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. See https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/geographical-distribution-2019-ncov-cases. June 7th report embedded below.

COVID-19-situation-update-worldwide-as-of-7-June-2020

The shifting focus of cases to developing and least developed countries raises increased concerns about access to medical goods, including personal protective equipment, ventilators, and other goods. The WTO’s list of measures applied by Members dealing with COVID-19 either to restrict exports of medical goods or food products or to improve market access , shows dozens of countries applying export restraints on various medical goods (masks, gloves, etc.) including countries where new cases are well past peak (indeed where new cases may be 90% below peak). The WTO information is current as of May 29, 2020. There are also a large number of countries reducing tariffs or streamlining importation of medical goods. https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/covid19_e/trade_related_goods_measure_e.htm.

Moreover, health care infrastructure is often weaker in many of these countries facing growing COVID-19 cases, and the structure of their economies may complicate the ability of governments to address the pandemic even if medical goods are available. A recent article reviews the challenges in Latin America. See https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/06/americas/latin-america-coronavirus-intl/index.html.

Some major players like the United States, the European Union and its member states, and China are both investing large amounts in research and development and also securing early access to any vaccines developed through early commitments and other actions. https://www.biospace.com/article/eu-using-2-7-million-emergency-fund-to-buy-promising-covid-19-vaccines/. With the number of R&D projects ongoing around the world and the efforts of companies and governments to get manufacturing geared up early on promising products, the likelihood of earlier availability of large quantities of vaccines should there be breakthroughs has improved.

The question of equitable and affordable availability for all peoples is certainly there for a global pandemic where major players are funding research and have the resources to get early commitments for supplies. But greater manufacturing capacity earlier should improve global availability. So too the efforts of many countries, organizations and businesses to ensure both availability of vaccines and the distribution of such products to those in need is a major factor in ensuring greater access at affordable prices. As the news from the June 4 GAVI conference in London demonstrates, many are uniting to ensure that small children who have been unable to receive various immunizations against other diseases are able to do so yet this year as well as meet the needs of the pandemic for many developing and least developed countries. See https://www.gavi.org/news/media-room/world-leaders-make-historic-commitments-provide-equal-access-vaccines-all.

Conclusion

The pandemic is continuing to worsen on a global basis even as parts of Asia, Western Europe, Oceania, Canada and the United States are post-peak and starting a process of reopening. The tremendous growth in the number of cases is in developing and least developed countries, those least prepared to handle the health and economic fall out.

The trade news is mixed. Many countries are liberalizing imports of medical goods during the pandemic which is obviously a positive. However, dozens of countries have introduced export restrictions in an environment in which global supply has lagged global demand, and countries have scrambled to protect access to what supplies they can. Many of these restrictions should be removed at this point, at least by countries that are well past peak demand situations.

Ramp up in global production of many medical goods has occurred, though it is unclear if demand/supply balance has been achieved or how/if the world will build the necessary national and regional inventories to handle a second wave or future pandemics. Moreover, without knowing how much larger the number of new cases will become before there is a global peak, it is hard to know if expansion of production of medical goods will be adequate to meet demand in the coming months. Efforts by the G-20 in the trade and investment area are a start but limited in terms of likely actual effect.

Factually, there have substantial declines in global trade flowing from the lock down situation in large parts of the world over the last few months. Trade flows should increase in those parts of the world where reopening is occurring but will likely further decrease in countries where the pandemic is picking up its infection rate. The economic toll on many countries who have come through the worst of the pandemic has been unprecedented and will present challenges to their ability to rebound quickly and to their willingness to increase financial assistance to others.

While success in finding vaccines or therapeutics is never guaranteed (indeed no vaccine for HIV has been found despite efforts for 40 years), there has never been the global focus on R&D and the willingness to risk large amounts of capital to be ready to produce large volumes of doses for any products demonstrating effectiveness. While the global community is not unified in its support of the WHO or in cooperating to achieve equitable and affordable access for all, there has been important support for both which should improve achieving a global solution if vaccines are developed that are effective.

Finally, it is hard to imagine significant forward movement at the WTO on its current negotiations or on WTO reform (including of the dispute settlement system) while Members are struggling to address the fallout from the pandemic. And, of course, with the WTO turning its attention to the selection of a new Director-General in light of DG Azevedo’s departure at the end of August, achieving focus on the normal work of the WTO will be that much harder until a new DG has been selected.

Bottom line – a continued difficult 2020 in the second half of the year.

U.S.-China Phase I Deal is Failing Expanded U.S. Exports Even Before Recent Efforts by China to Limit Certain U.S. Agriculture Exports as Retaliation for U.S. Position on Hong Kong

The U.S.-China Phase I trade agreement went into effect in mid-February just as the COVID-19 pandemic was rapidly spreading globally.  In the United States, the U.S. Trade Representative and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture have released a series of statements indicating that China has been making a number of the substantive changes that were contained in the agreement, with the U.S. being pleased with the progress.  See, e.g. https://ustr.gov/about-us/policy-offices/press-office/press-releases/2020/may/usda-and-ustr-announce-continued-progress-implementation-us-china-phase-one-agreement

The COVID-19 pandemic has seriously reduced economic activity in the United States and in many other countries.  Despite such reduced economic activity in recent months, the U.S. Administration has remained optimistic about China’s meeting the agreement’s terms and the agreement being “a success,” including the significant increase in exports to China from the United States over two years (2020-2021).  https://ustr.gov/about-us/policy-offices/press-office/press-releases/2020/may/usda-and-ustr-announce-continued-progress-implementation-us-china-phase-one-agreement.  An important measure of the success will be the extent to which there are significant increases in U.S. exports.

As reviewed in a recent post, the United States has announced it will be terminating special status of Hong Kong in light of Chinese security actions taken vis-a-vis Hong Kong.  U.S. Withdrawal from the World Health Organization and Decision to Revoke Preferential Treatment for Hong Kong – Reduced Cooperation as COVID-19 Pandemic Rages On, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/05/30/u-s-withdrawal-from-the-world-health-organization-and-decision-to-revoke-preferential-treatment-for-hong-kong-reduced-cooperation-as-covid-19-pandemic-rages-on/.  U.S. action did not call for the termination of the US-China Phase I Agreement.  In recent days, the press have reported that China has ordered state-owned entities to stop purchasing from the United States various agriculture products, including soybeans, pork, corn and cotton.  https://thehill.com/policy/finance/trade/500464-china-halts-state-purchases-of-us-soybeans-pork-report.  There have been some statements in the U.S. press suggesting that China continues to buy U.S. agricultural products including soybeans despite the earlier reports to the contrary.  See, e.g.,   https://insidetrade.com/trade/grassley-confident-china-will-meet-phase-one-commitments.

With April 2020 U.S. export data now available, what is clear is that China is far behind in meeting the levels of purchases from the United States in a wide range of goods categories to meet the first year growth over 2017 on goods of $63.9 billion.  Total U.S. domestic exports to China in 2017 were $119.910 billion.  The $63.9 billion increase of U.S. exports of goods were on a subset of total U.S. goods exports, just $66.381 billion.  Thus, the rate of increase in the first twelve months under the agreement is expected to be 96.26% on the categories contained in Annex 6.1 to the Agreement.  There are specific commitments with regard to certain manufactured goods (increase of $32.9 billion over 2017 levels), agriculture (increase of $12.5 billion over 2017 levels) and energy (increase of $18.5 billion over 2017 levels).  While there are no specific commitments on other products the U.S. exports to China, the rate of increase as measured against all U.S. domestic exports to China in 2017 would be 53.29% if all other products were at the same level as in 2017.

Unfortunately, looking just at March and April 2020 (the first two full months after the agreement took effect for which U.S. export data are available), U.S. domestic exports of the products contained in Annex 6.1 to the agreement declined by 4.04% from the March-April 2017 period.  All other U.S. domestic exports of goods to China declined 39.35% in March-April 2020 compared to the same period in 2017.  In total U.S. domestic exports to China of all products declined by 20.24% in March-April 2020 compared to the same months in 2017.  Thus, the early months of the first year of the Phase I Agreement are moving in the wrong direction in terms of U.S. exports.  While challenges in China and in the United States from the pandemic have undoubtedly dampened both demand in China and ability to ship from the U.S. for some products, that situation has changed in May and will presumably improve moving forward.

The above figures do not account for increased U.S. services exports to China contained in Annex 6.1 to the agreement (increase of $18.5 billion over 2017 levels).  Data for U.S. services exports for 2020 are not available by country at this point for January-April.  But overall U.S. services exports have been hard hit in the first four months of 2020 and this will include U.S. exports to China.  U.S. exports of services to the world were $169.482 billion in the January-April 2020 time frame, down from $193.010 billion in 2019, with March and April 2020 being more sharply contracted, $72.117 billion vs. $97.103 billion in 2019.  See https://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/Press-Release/current_press_release/ft900.pdf (page 16).

The table below shows the 18 categories of goods for which there are growth commitments in Annex 6.1 of the Agreement.  All figures are in U.S.$ billions.

Product CategoryMarch-April 2017March-April 2020Change
Manufactured goods
1. Industrial machinery$1.845$2.091+$0.246
2. Electrical Equipment
and machinery
$0.694$0.867+$0.173
3. Pharmaceutical
products
$0.323$0.501+$0.178
4. Aircraft (orders and
deliveries
$0$0 $0
5. Vehicles$1.747$0.716-$1.031
6. Optical and medical
instruments
$0.522$0.566+$0.044
7. Iron and steel$0.232$0.081-$0.151
8. Other manufactured
goods
$1.737$2.224+$0.487
Subtotal — MFG goods$7.099$7.046-$0.053
Agriculture
9. Oilseeds$0.747$0.230-$0.517
10. Meat$0.106$0.582+$0.476
11. Cereals$0.224$0.194-$0.030
12. Cotton$0.229$0.200-$0.029
13. Other agricultural
commodities
$0.000$0.354+$0.354
14. Seafood$0.231$0.152-$0.079
Subtotal – Agriculture$1.536$1.712+$0.175
Energy
15. Liquefied natural
gas
$0.014$0.162+$0.148
16. Crude oil$0.658$0.210-$0.448
17. Refined products$0.334$0.193-$0.241
18. Coal$0.090$0.016-$0.074
Subtotal – Energy$1.096$0.581-$0.515
Total of 1.-18.$9.731$9.339-$0.392

Conclusion

The Trump Administration has had an aggressive program over the last several years to address perceived serious problems in our bilateral relationship with China. The Phase I Agreement was viewed as a down payment with the more challenging issues still on the table to be negotiated in a phase 2 agreement. There is no sign that Phase 2 negotiations have started. The history of U.S.-China consultations has been a great many promises of change by China and relatively little action by China to address U.S. concerns.

It is a positive that a number of the specific changes China has agreed to in the Phase I Agreement have been implemented to date. The U.S. has also made modifications it agreed to make in the Phase I Agreement. But the core issue for the Trump Administration is to see if its different approach to China can achieve meaningfully greater reciprocity in our trade relationship with China. That has been the justification for the large tariff increases on large parts of Chinese exports — getting long overdue changes to Chinese actions that harm American businesses and workers and obtain greater market access to the Chinese market.

Through April, U.S. trade data don’t show meaningful expansion of exports to China despite the commitments contained in Annex 6.1 to the Agreement. Indeed, U.S. exports are down sharply to China (U.S. imports from China are down sharply as well).

Despite the ongoing bilateral differences and actions causing a continuation of tensions between the two largest economies in the world, improving bilateral trade to a more reciprocal level would be in both countries’ interest. With China having recovered from COVID-19 constraints and with the U.S.having started its reopening process, the coming months will reveal whether the Agreement represents a further lost opportunity or a sea change in trade flows.

Digital Services Taxes – New U.S. Section 301 Investigations on Nine Countries and the European Union

In 2019, the United States initiated a section 301 investigation on France’s digital services tax (“DST”), made a finding that France’s DST “is unreasonable or discriminatory and burdens or restricts U.S. Commerce.”  84 Fed. Reg. 66956 (Dec. 6, 2019).  Additional duties of up to 100% were proposed on French goods valued at $2.4 billion.  France agreed to hold up application of its tax until the end of 2020 and the U.S. agreed to hold up tariffs to give the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development time to conclude discussions on a possible agreed international tax structure for digital services.

On June 2, 2020, the U.S. Trade Representative announced the initiation of 301 investigations on nine countries and the European Union who have either implemented DSTs or who have such DSTs under development.  https://ustr.gov/about-us/policy-offices/press-office/press-releases/2020/june/ustr-initiates-section-301-investigations-digital-services-taxes.  The countries who are subject to the investigations include Austria, Brazil, the Czech Republic, the European Union, India, Indonesia, Italy, Spain, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.  The notice of initiation of the investigations will appear in the Federal Register on June 5, 2020 but was posted on the USTR website on June 2.  https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/assets/frn/FRN.pdf.

Because of the COVID-19 situation, written comments are being accepted but it is unclear if there will be a public hearing.  Written comments are due by July 15, 2020.  The Federal Register notice pre-publication is embedded below.

USTR FR notice 301 investigation on digital services

The focus of the investigation will be on the following aspects of DSTs:

“The investigation initially will focus on the following concerns with DSTs: discrimination against U.S. companies; retroactivity; and possibly unreasonable tax policy. With respect to tax policy, the DSTs may diverge from norms reflected in the U.S. tax system and the international tax system in several respects. These departures may include: extraterritoriality; taxing revenue not income; and a purpose of penalizing particular technology companies for their commercial success.”  Page 5.

Based on the prior investigation into the French DST, there is little doubt that all of the programs will be found to violate Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974, as amended, in some respect.

For example, in the French case, the USTR made five findings relevant to some or all of the current investigations:

‘First, the evidence collected in this investigation indicates that the French DST is
intended to, and by its structure and operation does, discriminate against U.S. digital companies.”

“Second, the evidence collected in this investigation indicates that the French DST’s
retroactive application is unusual and inconsistent with prevailing tax principles and renders the tax particularly burdensome for covered U.S. companies, which will also affect their customers, including U.S. small businesses and consumers.”

“Third, the evidence collected in this investigation indicates that the French DST’s
application to gross revenue rather than income contravenes prevailing tax principles and imposes significant additional burdens on covered U.S. companies.”

“Fourth, the evidence collected in this investigation indicates that the French DST’s
application to revenues unconnected to a presence in France contravenes prevailing international tax principles and is particularly burdensome for covered U.S. companies.”

“Fifth, the evidence collected in this investigation indicates that the French DST’s
application to a small group of digital companies contravenes international tax principles counseling against targeting the digital economy for special, unfavorable tax treatment.”

USTR, Section 301 Investigation, Report on France’s Digital Services Tax, Dec. 2, 2019, pages 1, 3, 4, 5.  https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/Report_On_France%27s_Digital_Services_Tax.pdf.

The EU and the EU-member states covered have DSTs similar to France’s (without retroactivity) with some DSTs already in effect.  Other countries’ systems appear to be similar as well with many countries already applying their DST.  https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/assets/frn/FRN.pdf.

The full USTR report on France’s DST is embedded below.

Report_On_France’s_Digital_Services_Tax

Where taxes are already in place, action by USTR will be likely even ahead of the end of the year absent agreement with the trading partner to postpone collection.  The start of investigations at this time will enable the U.S. to complete the investigation this summer or early fall, take public comments on possible tariffs to be added if no resolution with individual countries or the EU is possible.  More specifically, the U.S. will have handled domestic legal requirements to act if other DSTs go into effect without an OECD agreement or where the tax imposed is not consistent with the OECD terms.  As stated in the USTR press release yesterday, “’President Trump is concerned that many of our trading partners are adopting tax schemes designed to unfairly target our companies,’ said USTR Robert Lighthizer. ‘We are prepared to take all appropriate action to defend our businesses and workers against any such discrimination.’”  https://ustr.gov/about-us/policy-offices/press-office/press-releases/2020/june/ustr-initiates-section-301-investigations-digital-services-taxes.

Conclusion

The OECD efforts to develop an agreed model for taxing digital services are supposed to conclude this year.  The U.S. and its leading digital services companies have been very concerned about the efforts of trading partners to impose taxes that will effectively apply only or disproportionately to them.

At the same time, the COVID-19 pandemic has added pressure on governments to find new sources of revenue, and digital services are an inviting target.

Expect this to be a very important issue in the second half of 2020.  Failure to find an acceptable solution to the United States will result in a significant escalation of trade tensions both with the EU and with many other countries going forward.

 

 

 

 

 

COVID-19 Trade and Economic Fallout — Are current projections too optimistic?

The COVID-19 pandemic is not simply a global health crisis but also a global economic crisis of unprecedented proportions.

The WTO has projected that global trade will decline between 13 and 32 percent in 2020 before rebounding in 2021.  https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/pres20_e/pr855_e.htm.

The IMF in its April 2020 update of the global economy modified its projection to show global GDP contraction of 3.0% for 2020 with a 6.1% contraction by advanced economies (U.S., -5.9%; Euro Area, -7.9%; Japan, -5.2) and a 1.0% contraction for emerging markets and developing economies.  https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/WEO/Issues/2020/04/14/weo-april-2020.

Developments in global trade and the national economy for the United States and the rising severity of the pandemic in some of the emerging and developing countries will likely cause future downward revisions to the global trade and economic fallout occurring in 2020 and reemphasize the importance of global cooperation both in responding to the pandemic but also in posturing the world for an economic recovery in the second half of 2020 and beyond.

United States data through April as an example

Gross domestic product in the United States declined 5.0% in the first quarter of 2020 based on a May 28, 2020 second estimate provided U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis.  https://www.bea.gov/sites/default/files/2020-05/gdp1q20_2nd_0.pdf.

With more than 40 million people filing for unemployment benefits between mid-March and the end of May, the projection for second quarter GDP from at least one source on June 1, 2020 is an extraordinary contraction of 52.8%.  See https://www.frbatlanta.org/cqer/research/gdpnow.  This compares to the Congressional Budget Office’s projection of a 39.6% decline in the second quarter.  https://www.cbo.gov/publication/56335.  The CBO estimate uses a 3.5% decline in GDP for the first quarter and an annual projected decline of 5.6% for 2020.

With the current first quarter data GDP contraction in the U.S. at 5.0% and the most recent data from a model similar to that used by the Bureau of Economic Analysis projecting a 52.8% contraction in the second quarter, it is highly likely that the U.S. contraction in 2020 will exceed the 5.9% projected in the April IMF data.

Indeed, with the number of bankruptcies being reported in the U.S. and the large number of small and medium sized companies that may not be able to return to operation as reopening occurs, the economic rebound may not be as strong as current projections estimate either.  The continued large number of new cases in the United States may be a contributing cause as some states either delay the speed of reopening or face larger resurgence of cases once reopening occurs because of the continued high level of COVID-19 in the population.

While the number of cases in the United States has at least stabilized and has been  trending down, the rate of decline is far lower than that experienced in western Europe.  For example, the United States continues to have the largest number of new confirmed cases of any country in the world, many weeks after the U.S. peak.  Indeed in today’s European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control report on the COVID-19 situation update worldwide, as of 2 June 2020, the U.S. has 302,679 cases reported in the last fourteen days of the continuing to grow global total of 1,477,362 new cases in the last fourteen days.  European countries have relatively few (7,973 for Spain; 7,311 for Italy, 9,188 for France and 6,818 for Germany).  https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/geographical-distribution-2019-ncov-cases.  In a prior post, data were shown for various countries over the period December 31, 2019 – May 24, 2020.  Most European countries show reductions from their peak two week period of 80-90% while the United States has shown declines of only 23.5% through May 24 (slightly more through June 2, 26.0%).  See COVID-19 – new hot spots amidst continued growing number of confirmed cases,  https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/05/25/covid-19-new-hotspots-amidst-continued-growing-number-of-confirmed-cases/.  To the extent that IMF projections are based on infection rates that decline more rapidly than the actual U.S. experience with COVID-19, that would be another reason to believe the IMF projected contractions for the U.S. are too low. 

On the trade front, the United States was doing well until mid-March.  But the COVID-19 challenges that resulted in government actions led to 1st quarter 2020 exports from the U.S. of goods being down 1.2%, services exports down 21.5% for a total contraction of U.S. exports of 6.7%.  U.S. imports of goods were down 11.5%, led by contraction of imports from China due to various additional duties imposed on Chinese goods.  U.S. imports of services were down 29.9% for total imports being down 15.5%.  See Bureau of Economic Analysis, News Release BEA 20-23, May 28, 2020 at 7, https://www.bea.gov/news/2020/gross-domestic-product-1st-quarter-2020-second-estimate-corporate-profits-1st-quarter.

The U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Census Bureau puts out a “Monthly Advance Economic Indicators Report”.  The April 2020 report was released on May 29th and showed estimated data for imports and exports of goods (seasonally adjusted).  April exports for the U.S. were down 29.9% with individual sectors being down 5.3% (food, feeds and beverages) to 70.8% (automotive vehicles).  Similarly, U.S. imports were down 20.6% for April with sectors varying from being down 5.6% (foods, feeds and beverages) to 57.0% (automotive vehicles).  https://www.census.gov/econ/indicators/advance_report.pdf.

Thus, U.S. trade contractions in April suggest that the range put forward by the WTO (13-32% for the year) is probably the correct range. 

Rising Number of COVID-19 cases in South America and in India

The IMF revised 2020 projections from April likely understate the negative effects that emerging and developing countries are experiencing.  Specifically, Latin America and the Caribbean are seeing major outbreaks of COVID-19 cases with the peak not yet reached in a number of important countries like Brazil, Peru, Chile and Colombia and also in Mexico.  Depending on developments in these major countries and the spread in others, the likely economic contraction in the region could be significantly higher than the 5.2% contained in the April 2020 projections by the IMF.  Brazil was estimated to experience a GDP contraction of 5.3% by the IMF, but recent estimates show a steadily growing projected contraction, latest figures showing 6.25%.  See https://www.statista.com/statistics/1105065/impact-coronavirus-gdp-brazil/.  With the COVID-19 cases still growing in Brazil, the contraction in GDP for 2020 will likely continue to worsen.

Similarly, India was projected to have GDP growth of 1.9% in 2020.  The country’s challenges with COVID-19 cases are just starting with the current total number of confirmed cases at just under 200,000 but with nearly half of the cases reported in the last fourteen days (97,567 of 198,706).   Indeed, some recent projections by Oxford Economics now have India’s GDP contracting in 2020.  See https://www.icis.com/explore/resources/news/2020/06/01/10513907/india-gdp-growth-slows-to-4-2-lockdown-stays-at-manufacturing-hubs.

Other countries are also seeing increasing case numbers and the global totals of new cases have not peaked as yet which likely mean greater numbers of cases than most models have anticipated.  If so global contraction could be significantly worse than the April estimates of the IMF.

High national debt levels are growing higher   

The collapse of economic activity even for a few months is reducing tax revenues, increasing government spending in many jurisdictions and worsening national debt levels.  For example, in the United States the Congressional Budget Office blog from April 24 estimated that the U.S. budget deficit in 2020 and 2021 will be $2.7 billion and $1.1 billion higher than earlier estimates and that federal debt held by the public is likely to grow from 79% of GDP in 2019 to 101% of GDP in 2020 and 108% of GDP in 2021.  https://www.cbo.gov/publication/56335.  The actual deficits and federal debt are likely to be significantly higher as the CBO estimates are based on forecasts for GDP contraction that already understates the severity experienced through the first quarter and assumes no further federal assistance will be required to pull the economy out of the steep contraction being experienced in the second quarter.  As governors across the country have made clear, the serious budget shortfalls being experienced by the states because of closed businesses, reduced revenues and increased expenditures are not sustainable.  If these 2020 shortfalls are not addressed through federal legislation, the outcome will be large reductions in state and local services and massive layoffs of state and municipal employees including police, fire, health care and teachers.  So either the budget shortfall of the federal government is understated because of additional stimulus funding needs or the expected recovery of the economy (and hence government revenues) is overstated because of the challenges for many states.

Virtually every country is facing budget challenges as they attempt to address the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout.  See, e.g., articles on growing budget deficits for France, Italy, Brazil and India; https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-France-budget/france-more-than-doubles-crisis-package-cost-to-100-billion-euros-idUSKCN21R2J2; https://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2020/05/22/world/americas/22reuters-brazil-economy.html; https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-italy-budget-exclu/exclusive-italy-sees-2020-budget-deficit-near-10-of-gdp-source-idUSKBN21Y2U9; https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/economy/indicators/indias-fiscal-deficit-may-shoot-to-6-2-of-gdp-in-fy21-fitch-olutions/articleshow/74928660.cms?from=mdr#:~:text=NEW%20DELHI%3A%20India’s%20fiscal%20deficit,Fitch%20Solutions%20said%20on%20Wednesday.  

Budget shortfalls, the need to borrow more money and the pressure to reduce national, regional and local services all affect the ability of nations to contribute to international institutions, to provide financial assistance to the poorest countries and to facilitate short-, medium- and longer-term growth.

Conclusion

The global COVID-19 pandemic is creating economic havoc in addition to the heavy health toll on countries around the world.  A global challenge of this magnitude hasn’t been faced since World War II.  The projections that have been made by multilateral and national organizations have been for huge contractions in world trade and in global economic growth.  Unfortunately, the estimates at least on global GDP contraction are likely too optimistic both in terms of the severity of the second quarter 2020 contraction and the anticipated level of  second half 2020 recovery.  Moreover, there is likely to be significantly more national stimulus programs needed to help economies recover increasing already huge national debts for many countries and the likely greater need for trade financing and debt support for many developing and least developed countries because of the severity of the global trade and GDP contraction. 

The challenges being faced affect the health and livelihood of billions of people but are occurring at a time of reduced trust in multilateral institutions, increased trade frictions between major nations and groups of nations and a lack of strong leadership within and among nations.  

How severe the damage to the world turns out to be from the pandemic will depend on –

(1) whether countries come together to ensure open markets;

(2) whether countries both coordinate information about and promote expanded production of essential medical goods to ensure adequate and equitable availability to all at affordable prices,

(3) whether countries support efforts of both public and private players on the development of effective vaccines and therapeutics and facilitate the sharing of information while ensuring equitable availability to all at affordable prices where breakthroughs occur,

(4) whether countries support multilateral organizations’ efforts and individually support the bolstering of health care infrastructure of least developed countries and some developing countries where COVID-19 cases could easily overwhelm internal capabilities;

(5) whether countries cooperate for a strong global recovery by pursuing stimulus programs that don’t distort markets and create other challenges to global participation, and by providing multilateral organizations with the resources to address debt and trade financing needs of the poorest among us.

There are some efforts to address each of the five items above although the U.S. announced withdrawal from the World Health Organization handicaps efforts reviewed in (3). 

More needs to be done and could be done with greater cooperation among the top 50 countries in the world.  However, we may be at the maximum of what is the art of the possible at the moment.  For the 7.8 billion people living on earth in 2020, let us hope that more is possible quickly. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

U.S. Withdrawal from the World Health Organization and Decision to Revoke Preferential Treatment for Hong Kong — Reduced Cooperation as COVID-19 Pandemic Rages on

On May 29, 2020, President Trump indicated that the United States was withdrawing from the World Health Organization (“WHO”) because of the WHO’s failure to adopt reforms the U.S. had demanded and the belief of a bias within the WHO towards China and China’s failure to provide timely information on the start of the virus and the likely nature of the problem. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/29/us/politics/trump-hong-kong-china-WHO.html. This followed the U.S.’s earlier temporary withholding of funds from the WHO while awaiting developments on reforms.

President Trump also indicated that in light of actions by China to assert security controls over Hong Kong, the U.S. viewed China as violating its commitment to maintain “one China, two systems” and would accordingly be taking actions to remove special treatment provided Hong Kong in a wide range of areas (extradition, export controls, etc.) and would be treating Hong Kong as part of China for tariffs, export controls, etc. https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-to-cancel-visas-for-some-chinese-graduate-students-11590744602.

Not surprisingly, China has reacted negatively to the statements of President Trump on Hong Kong and has threatened to take retaliatory actions if the U.S. takes actions contrary to China’s interests and indicated that any U.S. action was doomed to fail. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-05-30/china-says-us-action-on-hong-kong-doomed-to-fail; https://www.cnbc.com/2020/05/30/china-says-us-action-on-hong-kong-doomed-to-fail.html.

Concerns have also been raised that U.S. action would be a double-edged sword in light of the large trade surplus the U.S. has with Hong Kong and the enormous presence of U.S. businesses in Hong Kong. For example, based on U.S. Census data as compiled by the U.S. International Trade Commission, the United States had a trade surplus with Hong Kong (total exports – general imports) of $26.086 billion in 2019 [the trade surplus based on domestic exports – imports of consumption being lower at $11.845 billion]. While China has not identified actions it is considering, harming U.S. interests in Hong Kong would obviously be one avenue China might take.

The trade implications, in terms of U.S. imports from Hong Kong, are relatively minor. If imports from Hong Kong are treated as imports from China, imports of items subject to additional duties from the 301 investigation would be relatively minor. That is because U.S. imports for consumption from Hong Kong in 2019 were just $4.646 billion, with half of that being under HS 9810 for articles that have been imported after exportation, after repair, etc. If China were to impose additional duties on U.S. exports to Hong Kong, the effect would be larger. U.S. domestic exports to Hong Kong in 2019 were $16.491 billion.

Increased tensions; reduced cooperation

Whatever the merits of the actions being taken by the United States (and the reactions anticipated from China), the results are predictable — we are entering a period of reduced cooperation and coordination of actions to address the pandemic as well as increasing bilateral tensions between the U.S. and China at a time of global economic contraction. This despite the fact that cooperation has been less than robust even before the current increased tensions.

In the trade arena, the pandemic continues to grow in severity as confirmed cases continue to climb globally with the hot spots shifting. Cooperation at the WTO and G20 is critical in terms of keeping markets open, minimizing export restraints, addressing logistics needs in a manner that preserves the health needs of importing countries, avoiding inventory builds of agricultural products, the introduction of export restraints where there is no underlying agriculture production problem globally, taking actions to expand production of medical goods to meet the demand surge flowing from the pandemic, ensuring transparency, and promoting best practices. The world is struggling already to achieve the trade needs identified above. Reduced cooperation will make the challenges that much harder.

Similarly, the search for vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics to effectively prevent, treat and identify medical needs requires global cooperation, information sharing and the work of a multilateral institution like the WHO and various NGOs to ensure all peoples who need these products have equitable and affordable access to them when developed. Trials on potential vaccines are at various stages in China, in the United States and in Europe and possibly other areas. Often the research is amongst companies working jointly from multiple jurisdictions. Which research project or projects will prove effective, if any, is obviously not known. Implications of a lack of cooperation between countries should effective vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics be developed are for the possible hording of products, refusal to sell to other countries or delays in sharing and other actions that would make global escape from the pandemic harder, longer and more deadly.

And for many developing and least developed countries, the pandemic, whether significantly affecting individual countries directly, threatens most countries through contraction in global trade (estimated to be between 13 and 32% by the WTO in 2020), limited financial capabilities to address budget shortfalls and increased unemployment and challenges to existing health care infrastructure from the pandemic. Multilateral institutions like the World Bank and the IMF and others are critical here but are dependent on the cooperation of key members like the U.S., China, and others. While these organizations have been working effectively to date, the size of the challenge posed by the pandemic which is unprecedented will likely result in additional funding needs in the coming months or years which will require cooperation to meet.

Conclusion

The United States and China have very different economic and political systems. In the trade sphere, the United States has reached the conclusion that coexistence of such disparate systems doesn’t make sense under the World Trade Organization’s rules which are premised on market-based economic policies. The U.S. actions vis-a-vis China on trade have been an effort to achieve reciprocity with China, a situation not possible under the existing WTO rules. That the U.S. effort to obtain reciprocity in fact is proving contentious is hardly surprising and will not likely lessen in bilateral tensions in the near future.

In the political sphere, our two systems have resulted and will continue to result in periodic tensions, such as we are currently witnessing over the actions of China on security measures in Hong Kong.

Historically, major nations who view each other as adversaries have been able to cooperate effectively on issues of mutual interest. That was true during the cold war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union on certain issues. Whether the U.S. and China view each other as adversaries as well as competitors at the present time, the same ability to cooperate between them should be true when looking at issues such as addressing the pandemic effectively and efficiently.

Let us hope that regardless of the bilateral tensions and of the U.S. departure from the WHO, all WTO Members can step up their efforts to keep markets open and transparent and that governments will cooperate to ensure that medical developments are available to all on an equitable and affordable basis and that the financial resources are available to help those least able to weather the pandemic’s effects alone to survive and move forward.

The future of the WTO — restoring relevance

The World Trade Organization has 164 Members at present with 23 more countries or territories in the process of accession. Nearly all international trade in goods and services is handled by WTO Members and those seeking accession.

At the beginning of 2020, the WTO officially turned 25 years old. Despite some successes in the first 25 years in terms of negotiated improvements, the WTO set of agreements are largely reflective of the world in the 1980s. Advances in technology, manufacturing make-up and importance of certain service sectors (e.g., e-commerce) are not covered by the existing agreements.

The WTO’s negotiating function has been nearly moribund on a multilateral level for more than a decade, with most successes at the WTO keyed to actions by plurilateral groups of Members (action by the willing). A system built on consensus decision making has been the hallmark of activity during the GATT and now during the WTO years but has proven unworkable in moving many topics forward amongst an expanded membership.

Similarly, the dispute settlement function of the WTO, long referred to as the “jewel” of the WTO, has been in a state of crisis for the last several years and now has a nonfunctioning Appellate Body (“AB”) as longstanding systemic concerns of the United States about the Appellate Body’s operation and adherence to the Dispute Settlement Understanding (“DSU”) have led to the United States blocking appointments of Appellate Body members until the system is corrected consistent with the DSU. With only one of seven AB members still in place as of December 11, 2019, the AB is unable to hear appeals (as all appeals must be heard by three AB members).

At the same time, many WTO Members have not kept current with notification requirements contained in each Agreement and intended to help Members understand actions of trading partners and their likely compliance with WTO Agreement obligations. This lack of full transparency limits the ability of Members to address issues and seek compliance with underlying obligations.

With the increased importance of China and other countries with economic systems not consistent with the GATT’s and now WTO’s architecture, there have also grown concerns by some Members on the ability of the WTO to handle different economic systems under the existing rules with the U.S., EU and Japan seeking new rules addressing some of the major elements flowing from the different systems.

The WTO, unlike other multilateral institutions, has a process of self-selection of developing country status. Least developed countries do have a clear definition consistent with other organizations. As there has been substantial economic development of many countries describing themselves as “developing” during the first 25 years of the WTO’s existence, there is conflict on the need to change current classification and/or the need for special and differential treatment.

On top of all of these ongoing concerns, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in WTO Members acting first for their own domestic interests, particularly in light of huge shortfalls in global supplies and capacity for medical supplies versus the needs of countries facing spikes in the number of cases. The result has been dozens of export restraints (styled as temporary) and dozens of unilateral actions by countries to reduce duties, simplify or prioritize entry procedures for medical supplies. While the WTO has established a webpage for COVID-19 information and provides information on actions taken by Members (either export restraints or import liberalizing), the WTO Members have not agreed on a course of action for all Members to pursue.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also disrupted the functioning of the WTO as in-person meetings have been cancelled for the last several months, and many developing countries have insisted that virtual meetings not be used for decision making, essentially halting the negotiations on areas like fisheries subsidies.

The challenges reviewed above raise the question about the WTO’s continued relevance and as importantly what reforms are needed to restore the WTO’s relevance going forward. The short-term challenges for the WTO are compounded by the decision by Director-General Azevedo to step down at the end of August which will divert much energy at the WTO into the process for finding a replacement Director-General.

Deputy Director-General Alan Wolff’s virtual presentation at a webinar hosted by the Korean International Trade Association

Earlier today, the WTO’s Deputy Director-General Alan Wolff made a virtual presentation in a webinar that was hosted by the Korean International Trade Association. The title of the presentation was “COVID-19 and the Future of World Trade. A link to the presentation can be found here. https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/ddgaw_27may20_e.htm.

Everyone interested in the future of the multilateral trading system should take the time to read DDG Wolff’s presentation. The presentation reviews actions needed by WTO Members to respond to COVID-19, measures WTO Members can take to assist with the economic recovery from the pandemic, and systemic reform that WTO Members should consider. It is the last of these that takes up the bulk of the presentation.

In talking about reform, DDG Wolff states that —

“It is necessary to understand what values the multilateral trading system is designed to promote before it can be reformed.

“A serious inquiry into this subject would serve three purposes:

“(1) to know the value of what we have in the current system,

“(2) to determine if the values of the current system enjoy the support of all WTO Members, and

“(3) to address the degree to which the WTO is of sufficient continuing relevance as it is at present or whether it needs fundamental change.

“My list of the underlying values of the WTO has 16 entries. They include a number of basic principles.

“The first two, not obvious to all of us today, are supporting peace and stability. This was the key concern of the founders of the multilateral trading system in 1948 and the central objective of conflict-affected and fragile acceding members today.

“Other values, such as nondiscrimination, transparency, reciprocity, international cooperation and the rule of law are more obvious. Still others are more nuanced, less obvious perhaps, and emerge only upon reflection. They include well-being, equality, sovereignty, universality, development, market forces, convergence and morality.

“A recent addition to the list is sustainability.

“A serious discussion of WTO reform is long overdue. The pandemic simply adds to the urgency of it taking place.”

Not surprising, DDG Wolff’s review of the sixteen entries is well done and presents a much broader understanding of the importance and value of a global trading system than trade negotiators, businesses, workers, and governments generally bring to the table.

I won’t review the presentation in detail as the value of the presentation in my view is in reviewing the entirety. While DDG Wolff presents the detailed analysis as a possible road to a better future, there are issues identified which similarly suggest the need for a new set of agreements. Consider his discussion of “convergence”:

“Convergence

“A corollary of the principle that market forces are to dictate competitive outcomes is that the rules of the WTO are based implicitly, but without doubt, on convergence and not coexistence. If the desire is to have systems where market forces are not allowed to operate and deliver results, an underlying unstated assumption of the multilateral trading system would not be valid.

“Coexistence would require a different WTO. Where there is no agreement on convergence, a new modus vivendi will inevitably be sought. The arrangement is likely to settle at a lower level of trade than the WTO rules would otherwise provide.”

The United States has in fact raised this exact issue with the WTO Membership in reviewing the market economy basis of the WTO and the incompatibility of state-directed/controlled economies like that of the People’s Republic of China (and others).

Will WTO Members be able to rise to the current needs to engage in reform that supports the 16 principles reviewed in DDG Wolff’s paper? The future relevance of the WTO and the future dynamism of the global trading system depend on it.

COVID-19 — new hotspots amidst continued growing number of confirmed cases

On May 25th, there is continued global growth in the number of COVID-19 cases despite apparent control of the virus in its origin, China, and in a number of Asian countries that had early case loads. There also has been a sharp contraction in western Europe which had been a major hot spot for March and April and some decline in the United States, the country with the largest number of cases. Despite the positive news from some parts of the world, there have been sharp upticks in South America, in Russia, in various countries in the Middle East and in parts of Asia. While the numbers remain relatively low in Africa, there are also countries in Africa going through significant growth in the number of cases.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control puts out a daily compilation of the global situation and includes epidemiological curves for the world broken by continents (as they have characterized countries and continents). The link to today’s issue is here and shows the bulk of the volume of new confirmed cases continuing to be from the Americas, with increasing volumes of new cases also coming from Asia. The data show reduced volumes of new cases from Europe and growing volumes of new cases (though still quite small) from Africa. https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/geographical-distribution-2019-ncov-cases.

In South America, Brazil’s case load is skyrocketing, and the country now has the second most cases after the United States. Peru, Chile, Colombia, Argentina, and Bolivia are other countries in South America going through rapid growth rates in the number of new COVID-19 cases in the last two weeks.

In North America, Mexico’s cases are increasing rapidly, and the U.S., while having apparently peaked and started a decline, still shows the largest number of new cases of any country in the last two weeks.

In Europe, Russia, while appearing to have peaked, still has very large numbers of new cases and has the third largest number of cases of any country.

In the Middle East, a number of countries have large increases in the number of new cases, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE.

In Asia, India and Pakistan are seeing large increases in the number of new cases.

In Africa, just two countries have as many as 10,000 confirmed cases — South Africa with 21,343 cases and Egypt with 16,613. Both countries have seen large increases in the last two weeks.

So the bottom line is that five months since data started to be collected on COVID-19 cases, the world is seeing continued growth in the number of new cases reported daily with a significant shift in the number of cases from China, Western Europe and parts of Asia to new hot spots in Russia, South America, the Middle East, certain large countries in Asia and in Africa.

Looking at twenty-two countries who were either early countries with COVID-19 confirmed cases or countries who have seen large increases in the first five months, there are other take-aways. The table in the embedded document below was compiled from the ECDC data base through May 24 (with updates for the U.K. and Spain for 5/24 since the 5-24 publication stopped at 5-23 for those two countries). The table has eleven columns of fourteen day periods from Jan. 6, 2020 through May 24, 2020 and a twelfth column showing data for the six day period Dec. 31, 2019 – January 5. The twenty-two countries shown accounted for 4,289,037 confirmed cases of the 5,273,572 global total cases shown in the May 24th publication (81.33% of all cases). Yet despite the presence of China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, France, Germany, Italy and Spain among the 22 (all of whom show sharp declines in new cases in the last month or so), the number of new cases from the 22 countries collectively continues to increase each two weeks.

COVID-19-geographic-disbtribution-worldwide-2020-05-24

Countries who have dealt with COVID-19 most successfully had relatively short periods of peak numbers of new cases and sharp contractions of new cases within a month of the peak. The United States has had a relatively longer-term plateau of high infection rates and more limited reductions after the peak. Some of the new hot spots are still growing and so haven’t even peaked. If their internal efforts to control the spread of COVID are not more successful than the experience of the United States, the world is likely to continue in a period of upward growth of global cases which will keep extreme pressure on the global supply of medical goods needed by first responders and the public more generally. New hot spots will also necessarily mean a shifting of where health care systems are overwhelmed by rising numbers of cases.

In a prior post, I reviewed the recent G20 Trade and Investment Ministers statement and agreed program to support keeping trade flowing during the COVID-19 pandemic and addressing longer term needs, including increased capacity for medical goods. See G20 Trade and Investment Ministerial Meeting – Meaningful Help for COVID-19 Response and WTO Reform? https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/05/17/g20-trade-and-investment-ministerial-meeting-meaningful-help-for-covid-19-response-and-wto-reform/.

There have been various articles reviewing some of the increased production occurring in China, in the EU and in the United States, among other countries. Such increased production provides the hope that the gap between supply and demand has been reduced or eliminated for some products. Declining number of new cases for many countries also means that their internal needs have decreased, which should permit redirecting supplies to countries in need.

For example, with the expansion of U.S. production of ventilators and the peaking of new cases about a month ago in the U.S., the U.S. has shifted from searching the world for ventilators to indicating it will export ventilators to countries in need (including the recent export of 50 U.S.-made ventilators to the Russian Federation). The level of increased production in the United States, an increase of more than 100,000 units, should significantly reduce any global supply deficiency for ventilators going forward. See https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/05/21/860143691/u-s-sends-ventilators-to-russia-in-5-6-million-coronavirus-aid-package; https://www.politico.com/news/2020/04/21/trump-ventilators-africa-aid-199006.

One risk that remains is whether any increased production will be maintained over time or permitted to atrophy once the pandemic’s first phase has run its course.

Another risk goes to whether countries will address whatever barriers or disincentives exist to develop the needed capacity, increase the reliability of supply chains (with the possibility of some reshoring or building in greater redundancies in supply chain capabilities), or develop the inventories of medical supplies needed for addressing a phase 2 or some subsequent pandemic.

Finally, dozens of countries have imposed export restraints on medical goods to address domestic demand needs as the number of cases were increasing in the individual country. While the WTO provides flexibilities for countries to impose such restraints, the flexibilities are intended to be used only for temporary purposes. Many of the restraints imposed have not been removed by countries even if their current situation should permit the reduction or elimination of the restrictions. Hopefully the WTO review process and agreements by G20 and other groups will facilitate a rapid elimination of such restraints when no longer needed or justified.

Conclusion

Most of the developed world has come through the first phase of the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of controlling the spread and reducing the number of new confirmed cases. Countries who have gotten past their peak infection rates are now starting to reopen their economies to reduce the economic damage that has already been extraordinary for many countries.

Unfortunately, other countries, who have not been the hot spots for COVID-19, see increases in cases that surpass the declines in those who have gotten through the peaks of infections in their countries. Thus, total new cases continue to increase even after five months since data were first collected.

The growing number of confirmed cases make collective efforts to keep markets open and any export restraints imposed temporary in fact, to expand production of medical supplies, to share best practices, to ensure adequate financial resources for the world’s poorest countries and to expedite development of vaccines and therapeutics critical if the extent of the economic and human damage from this pandemic is to be capped and reduced going forward in the second half of 2020.

Continued Stress in U.S.-China relations — Reduced Cooperation in Multilateral Fora

The two largest economies in the world view each other as competitors and potential adversaries. With significantly different political and economic systems and ideologies, the United States and China have had different perspectives on commitments and obligations undertaken in the economic sphere.

U.S. concerns

Specifically, the United States has viewed its bilateral trade negotiations with China and the later conclusion of China’s accession to the World Trade Organization (“WTO”) as having created a commitment by China to continue on market-based reforms with the eventual conversion of the Chinese economy into a market-economy consistent with the basic rules of the WTO. There have been high level dialogues between the two countries for years with a feeling in the U.S. that repeated commitments by China to fulfill commitments have not been honored and that the bilateral relationship had growing serious problems.

China concerns

China has had a different view of the world and its obligations to other countries through its joining the WTO. Reforms continued for a while but were replaced with a growing focus on state direction, state investment and heavy subsidization of a widespread number of sectors. China has viewed the United States as attempting to prevent its economic growth and global role and as not respecting its “right” to view itself as a developing country within the WTO and hence to have fewer obligations than a developed country.

Trump Administration changes approach

Under the Trump Administration, the United States has taken a more aggressive approach to dealing with what it perceives as distortions in economic competition and lack of meaningful reciprocity in the bilateral trade relationship. The U.S. has also looked at bilateral and multilateral approaches to address the problems it perceives China has created and is creating with the functioning of the global trading system.

Bilaterally, the U.S. has conducted its 301 investigation on a host of longstanding concerns of the U.S. business community on Chinese policies and practices. The adverse findings from the USTR investigation has led to the U.S. imposing additional tariffs on Chinese goods when resolution of the underlying issues was not achieved followed by retaliation by China and a series of additional rounds of more tariffs and more retaliation. The U.S. and China did engage in negotiations to see if they could resolve the underlying concerns of the United States. A phase 1 agreement was signed in January 2020, with a phase 2 process supposed to have commenced by May.

At the same time, the United States has pursued reform at the WTO (1) to address longstanding and bipartisan concerns with the WTO dispute settlement system, (2) to address rule changes to address some of the distortions that flow from China’s nonmarket economy, (3) to modify the self-selection nature of which Members are “developing” and (4) to improve transparency.

On transparency, many countries are not current on the various notification requirements, but major concerns have existed with China and India in terms of the number and dollar value of subsidy programs that are not being reported in their notifications to the WTO.

Some of the reforms of interest to the United States are being pursued as well by others, such as the EU and Japan on state-invested companies and industrial subsidies and various other countries on transparency.

But the WTO has been struggling to achieve forward movement on many issues of importance to different Members in part due to lack of consensus on issues and a lack of leadership/coordination among major players.

COVID-19 Complicates the Bilateral Relationship

The COVID-19 pandemic has complicated the situation for the WTO and for U.S.-China relations both because of the global reach of the health problem resulting in reduced functionality of the Missions in Geneva and the current inability to hold face-to-face meetings and the widespread use of export restraints on medical goods (including personal protection equipment like masks, gloves, shields, gowns, etc.) as demand in nations with significant number of infections has grossly exceeded existing inventories and production capabilities both in country and globally.

In terms of U.S.-China relations, the lack of complete transparency by the Chinese in the early months of the COVID-19 outbreak, some slowness of action by the World Health Organization, and both missteps on testing and slowness of initial action within the United States (and resulting massive unemployment, costs to the economy and multiple trillion dollar government response) has added finger pointing on the pandemic to the already tense bilateral relations. It has also resulted in the U.S. distrusting the WHO and temporarily suspending U.S. funding for the organization.

With the collapse in global trade, the pandemic has also made it far less likely that China will honor its increased import commitments from the U.S. in 2020 as contained in the Phase 1 Agreement. See U.S.-China Phase I Agreement – some progress on structural changes; far behind on trade in goods and services, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/05/12/u-s-china-phase-i-agreement-some-progress-on-structural-changes-far-behind-on-trade-in-goods-and-services/. That said, the U.S. continues to identify important advances being made at least in agriculture with China. See https://ustr.gov/about-us/policy-offices/press-office/press-releases/2020/may/usda-and-ustr-announce-continued-progress-implementation-us-china-phase-one-agreement.

On trade, the pandemic has crippled the economies of many countries with the resulting declines in imports and exports in the March-April time frame and likely going forward for some period, though China as the first country through the outbreak and a major producer of medical goods actually saw increased overall exports to the world in April.

United States Strategic Approach to The People’s Republic of China

Earlier this week, the White House forwarded to Congress a document required by the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, United States Strategic Approach to The People’s Republic of China. On the trade/economic front, the paper repeats the concerns that the Administration has laid out in other documents most of which are summarized above (not including the COVID-19 issues). The U.S. views challenges from China to three broad areas — (1) economic challenges (largely failure to continue reforms to become a market economy, failure to honor commitments made to the US, use of predatory practices, insistence on being a developing country, etc.); (2) challenges to U.S. values; and (3) security challenges. The link to the document is here and the text is embedded below. https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/U.S.-Strategic-Approach-to-The-Peoples-Republic-of-China-Report-5.20.20.pdf.

U.S.-Strategic-Approach-to-The-Peoples-Republic-of-China-Report-5.20.20

Challenges for the WTO

The WTO remains able to move forward where issues are limited to a subset (the “willing”) as progress on e-commerce talks would support. But in a consensus based system, distrust between major players will paralyze large parts of any agenda. Indeed, with the large number of WTO Members (164) at various stages of economic development, there will almost always be a wide divergence of views on any issue. In such a situation, leadership and cooperation among major economies become important to develop a consensus. So it is hard to see how the WTO advances a reform agenda without improved relations between the organization’s two largest Members.

With the recently added challenge for the WTO of selecting a new Director-General, the sour relationship the U.S. and China will likely make finding a candidate who would be supported by a consensus of the Membership that much harder, suggesting at a minimum a process that takes the full six-month time for selection (versus any hoped for expeditious resolution in light of DG Azevedo’s departure at the end of August) and perhaps extended time lines. If the selection process breaks down into highly polarized camps (the existing procedures were developed to try to prevent such an outcome), the ability to move forward the WTO’s reform and existing negotiating agenda will be delayed by certainly months and perhaps longer.

Conclusion

At a time when the world is struggling with a global pandemic which continues to cause huge health challenges to many countries in the world and has devastated the global economy at least temporarily, costing tens of millions of workers jobs, and likely closing hundreds of thousand of businesses around the world while requiring government financial support that will likely exceed ten trillion dollars, there is an unfortunate lack of global cooperation between the major economic players and distrust at least from the U.S. of multilateral institutions viewed as either ineffective to deal with China’s economic system or not operating in an unbiased manner.

A major part of the challenge flows from the distrust that exists between the world’s two largest economies that precedes the pandemic but that has been worsened by the pandemic’s development and handling. The two countries have different economic systems which are essentially non-compatible, have different political systems and different ideologies and view each other as competitors and potential adversaries.

In a change of approach, the United States has decided to take a more aggressive approach to achieve reciprocity in fact with China and not merely on paper or from spoken promises. The change in approach has resulted in the U.S. acting unilaterally in certain situations. China has appeared unable to understand or agree with the concerns raised by the U.S. (and others) and harbors a belief that the real motive behind U.S. actions is “to keep China down”. This mutual distrust has resulted in both hard feelings and an inability to achieve cooperation on a large number of trade, economic and other issues.

The current U.S.-China relationship increases the problems for many multilateral organizations, but certainly for the WTO both in terms of selecting a new Director-General and in developing WTO reforms and moving ongoing negotiations forward.

Look for a challenging second half of 2020.

WTO selection of a new Director-General — One Individual from a Developed Country Previously Reviewed Could Shorten the Process

In my post from May 15, I reviewed the procedures the General Council uses for selecting a new Director-General (“DG”). May 15, 2020:  World Trade Organization – Search for a new Director-General, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/05/15/world-trade-organization-search-for-a-new-director-general/. With the current DG Roberto Azevedo having announced his intention to depart at the end of August this year, the WTO’s Chairman of the General Council, Amb. David Walker (NZ) is exploring with the Members whether the nine month normal selection process can be expedited to reduce or eliminate any gap period between DG Azevedo and the next DG. It is expected that with DG Azevedo having been from a developing country (Brazil), the next DG will be from a developed country. If true and if few or no developing countries put forward candidates, the WTO may face a smaller number of candidates put forward during the one month nominating process than was true in 2012-2013.

Amb. Walker today via email to the Members has suggested May 25th as the start date for the selection of a new DG. After that date, candidates can be put forward by their Member governments with a one month deadline (June 25). [UPDATE from May 20, start date will be June 8 will all candidates to be put forward by July 8. https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/dgsel_20may20_e.htm].

As noted in my prior post on the subject, there was one developed country candidate who was put forward in 2012/2013. If that individual, former New Zealand Minister of Trade, Minister for Climate Change Issues and Associate Minister of Foreign Affairs and former New Zealand Ambassador to the WTO Tim Groser is put forward by New Zealand when the nominating process commences, Members could decide on expedited procedures because of their familiarity with the Honorable Tim Groser, his proven strengths, his knowledge of the WTO and his ability to work with all governments and the review of him by the Members that took place in 2013. While such an approach will likely not be followed by the WTO Membership, if followed, there could be a relatively seamless transition with a very strong candidate taking over from the current DG at the end of August. For an organization facing the challenges the WTO is at the present time, such a smooth transition should be viewed as highly desirable.

The Hon. Tim Groser’s Curriculum Vitae in 2012 and later developments

When New Zealand put Groser forward as a candidate in 2012, he was in the middle of his service as New Zealand’s Minister of Trade, Minister for Climate Change Issues and Associate Minister of Foreign Affairs. He also had extended service in Geneva both during the Uruguay Round and in early years of the Doha Development Agenda negotiations. While in Geneva he served as Chair of the Rules negotiations for a period of time and later served as the Chair for the Agriculture negotiations. https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news12_e/biography_timgroser_newzealand_e.pdf .

biography_timgroser_newzealand_e

He continued in his capacity as New Zealand’s Minister of Trade and Minister for Climate Change Issues and Associate Minister of Foreign Affairs through 2015. From 2016 through 2018, Groser was New Zealand’s Ambassador to the United States and also served as a Special Envoy to the Pacific Alliance. Since 2019 he has headed up Groser & Associates, a trade consultancy. So the Honorable Tim Groser has a lifetime of commitment to trade expansion and the multilateral trading system.

January 30, 2013 Statement to the General Council

In early 2013, the problems facing the global trading system started with the inability of the WTO Members to conclude negotiations, a situation which has continued and, with few but important exceptions, worsened to the present time. The concerns that candidate Groser reviewed in his statement to the General Council on January 30, 2013 as part of the selection process included challenges to the dispute settlement system in terms of timeliness of decisions and the fundamental challenge of the breakdown in the negotiating function. The threat to the WTO at the time was perceived by candidate Groser to be to the continued relevance of the organization. He also believed that while there is an important political element to negotiations, the key is for progress at the technical and Geneva level before turning to senior trade officials for resolution of remaining issues.

The opening statement of candidate Groser from 2013 has continued relevance in 2020, although the challenges facing the WTO and its Members have gotten more complicated since 2012 with the impasse on the Appellate Body, the need to update the WTO rule book to make it relevant to technological developments, the changing makeup of membership with differing economic systems, and the changing economic capabilities of Members — all issues subsumed under the term “WTO reform”. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has understandably occupied the energies of many countries and the work of much of the WTO to help the global economy keep markets open and support economic recovery.

The 2012 statement of the Honorable Tim Groser is embedded below.

jobgc32newzeland_e

WTO Members were also able to raise questions to the candidates, though the time limitations meant that during the General Council meeting only selected countries could raise questions to a given candidate. The Q&A session for candidate Groser is included in the minutes of the General Council meeting held on January 29-31, 2013. See, e.g., WT/GC/M/142 at Annex D, Questions and Answers, pages 46-55. During the 75 minutes of questioning, twenty-four WTO Members were able to ask candidate Groser questions — Singapore, Czech Republic, Italy, Canada, Trinidad & Tobago, Dominica, Chile, the United States, Uruguay, Croatia, China, Spain, Nepal, Thailand, the Netherlands, Paraguay, Haiti, Malaysia, Saint Lucia, Brunei Darussalem, Ecuador, Argentina, Dominican Republic, Japan.

Finally, all candidates were given the opportunity to have a press conference following their meeting with the General Council. The link to candidate Groser’s press conference is here. His comments to the media summarized his main points from his direct presentation and then responded to media questions. https://www.wto.org/audio/2013_01_30_dg_sel_groser.mp3.

Personal observation

Over the last thirty years, I have spent a great deal of time in Geneva meeting with government officials from many Members and with many GATT and now WTO Secretariat staff. I have been privileged to know many of the Ambassadors and other Mission staff over that thirty year time period, including Amb. Groser. I know of no one that I met with who did not have a very high opinion of the capabilities of Amb. Groser when he was in Geneva. The Secretariat staff who worked with Amb. Groser on the Rules negotiations or the Agriculture negotiations are similarly personally familiar with his leadership ability and ability to find paths forward on seemingly impossible issues.

As one friend from Geneva recently said to me, “I have seen literally thousands of officials, Trade Ministers and experts pass through the GATT and WTO in the decades I worked for the system. If I had to pick one person who I think has the capacity and integrity to address these systemic issues it would be the Honourable Tim Groser – New Zealand’s Trade Minister for seven years and prior to that a legendary official in Geneva from the moment he arrived in the mid-1980s as his country’s senior negotiator at the start of the Uruguay Round.”

Conclusion

As DG Azevedo has made clear, the WTO faces enormous challenges going forward. With his departure in a little over three months, the WTO needs a new Director-General who will oversee the member-driven effort to address the challenges. Specifically, the new Director-General will need to help the Membership approach the postponed 12th Ministerial Conference sometime in 2021, hopefully conclude ongoing multilateral negotiations on fisheries subsidies and plurilateral talks on e-commerce. The new Director-Gernal will also need to help the Membership deal with the complex issues of WTO dispute settlement reform and the restart of the Appellate Body, the pressing need to modernize the WTO’s rule book to cover new technologies and current issues, revitalize the negotiating function, and reflect the changing makeup of the Membership and the relevance of existing rules to different economic systems of Members.

While there are likely many potential candidates who would be “well qualified”, the normal selection process could take to the end of the year with implementation possibly delayed until sometime in 2021, requiring use of an acting Director-General. That process could be significantly reduced if (1) New Zealand chose to renominate the Honorable Tim Groser and (2) the major Members of the WTO viewed his strong credentials as a basis for reducing the number of candidates to permit expedited selection of a new Director-General. One can always hope.

G20 Trade and Investment Ministerial Meeting — Meaningful Help for COVID-19 Response and WTO Reform?

On May 14, 2020, the G20 trade and investment ministers held a virtual meeting to consider proposals for joint action pulled together by the Trade and Investment Working Group (“TIWG”) on the topic of “G20 Actions to Support World Trade and Investment Through the COVID-19 Pandemic”.

The Ministerial statement released on the 14th endorsed the TIWG proposals which were attached to the statement and contain both short-term actions designed to “alleviate the impact of COVID-19” and longer-term actions intended to “support the necessary reform of the WTO and the multilateral trading system, build resilience in global supply chains, and strengthen international investment.” https://g20.org/en/media/Documents/G20SS_Statement_G20%20Second%20Trade%20&%20Investment%20Ministerial%20Meeting_EN.pdf.

The WTO’s Director-General Roberto Azevêdo welcomed the Ministerial statement and provided the following characterization of its content:

“DG Azevêdo hails G20 pledges on trade cooperation in COVID-19 response

“WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo welcomed G20 ministers’ endorsement of collective action measures to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on trade and investment and help foster
global economic recovery. The initiatives were endorsed at a virtual meeting of the G20 trade and investment ministers on 14 May.

“The actions include short-term responses designed to prevent trade logjams and facilitate trade in products needed to contain COVID-19, as well as longer-term support to reform the multilateral trading system, build resilience in global supply chains, and strengthen international investment.

“The G20 ministers pledged to promote WTO reform and ‘support the role of the multilateral trading system in promoting stability and predictability of international trade flows’. They agreed to ‘explore COVID-19 related WTO initiatives’ to promote more open and resilient supply chains, and expand production capacity and trade in pharmaceuticals, medical and other health-related products

“’These commitments by G20 ministers represent an important collective response to the trade-related challenges raised by the COVID-19 pandemic,’ said DG Azevêdo. ‘Maintaining stability and predictability in trade relations is critical to ensuring that essential medical supplies are available to save lives, and that global food security and nutrition do not become a casualty of this pandemic.’

“Echoing language from their first crisis meeting in late March, G20 ministers said that any emergency restrictions on trade in vital medical supplies and services should be targeted, proportionate, transparent and temporary, and should not create unnecessary barriers to trade or disrupt global supply chains. They also agreed to strengthen transparency and notify the WTO of any trade-related measures taken. They urged governments to refrain from excessive food stockpiling and export restrictions on agricultural products.

“In addition, the G20 ministers endorsed trade facilitation initiatives, including accelerated implementation of provisions in the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement, such as pre-arrival processing and expedited shipment, which could speed up access to essential goods during the pandemic. They also called for streamlining customs procedures and encouraging greater use of international standards to reduce sanitary and technical barriers to trade.

“Ministers also agreed to work together to identify key areas where investment is needed, in particular for critical medical supplies and sustainable agriculture production, and to encourage
investment in new production capacity for medical supplies.

“The extraordinary meeting of G20 trade and investment ministers was organized by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which currently holds the group’s rotating presidency.”

https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/igo_14may20_e.htm.

Because the G20 member countries have differing views on flexibilities needed, already taken, and potential space that may be needed in the future, much of the “actions” agreed to are more aspirational than commitments to avoid trade restrictive actions.

ANNEX to Ministerial Statement of May 14, 2020, G20 Actions to Support World Trade and Investment in Response to COVID-19

The Annex to the Ministerial Statement contains 19 “short-term collective actions” broken into five areas — “trade regulation”; “trade facilitation”; “transparency”; “operation of logistics networks”; and “support for micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs)”.

Trade regulation

On trade regulation, the three specific actions don’t ban export restraints for medical goods or agricultural products but rather provide avenues for such actions to be taken.

On medical goods, the action taken merely repeats the prior statement from the trade and investment ministers that any such actions are “targeted, proportionate, transparent, temporary” and “do not create unnecessary barriers to trade or disruption to global supply chains, and are consistent with WTO rules”. Para. 1.1.1.

Similarly, on agricultural restrictions, G20 countries agree to “refrain from introducing export restrictions” “avoid unnecessary food-stockpiling” but “without prejudice to domestic food security, consistent with national requirements.” Para. 1.1.2.

Finally, there is an aspirational action to “Consider exempting humanitarian aid related to COVID-19 from any export restrictions on exports of essential medical supples, medical equipment and personal protective equipment, consistent with national requirements.” Para. 1.1.3.

Considering the number of G20 countries who have had in place or continue to have in place export restraints on medical goods and the history of export restraints on agricultural goods and/or buildup of food stockpiling by some G20 countries, it is not surprising that more ambitious objectives have not been possible. For example, information compiled by the WTO Secretariat shows that nearly all G20 countries have had or continue to have export restraints on medical goods flowing from the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, the US, EU, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Republic of Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey and the United Kingdom are in the WTO data. While China is not included, their export restrictions on medical goods likely predated the data collection done by the WTO Secretariat. See https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/covid19_e/trade_related_goods_measure_e.htm. Similarly, Russia has agricultural export restraints in place and China, India and Indonesia have used them in the 2007-2008 food shortage challenge.

Trade facilitation

The Annex includes eight agreed “actions” under the heading of trade facilitation. Most of these actions are similarly not binding but are aspirational or encouraged. In fact five of the eight include the word “encourage”. Others include language like “to the extent possible” or “as appropriate and according with applicable national legislation”.

That said, many of the G20 countries and others have been taking actions to streamline the release of imported medical goods and other actions that are consistent with the objectives of the Trade Facilitation Agreement.

Two of the provisions under trade facilitation really go to the issue medical goods capacity, product availability and capacity expansions and are noteworthy as encouraging sharing of information on producers of product and also encouraging expansion of medical goods capacity. Paras. 1.2.4 and 1.2.5. As I have noted in prior posts, there has been and continues to be an imbalance between global capacity to produce the medical goods needed to fight COVID-19 and the demand for countries experiencing outbreaks. See, e.g., Shifting Trade Needs During the COVID-19 Pandemic, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/04/28/shifting-trade-needs-during-the-covid-19-pandemic/. If the world doesn’t address the supply/demand imbalance, it is highly improbable that most countries won’t enact export restraints to prevent the loss of needed goods that are in country during surging demand. While neither G20 agreed action is binding, both are helpful to improve knowledge of available supplies and hopefully to expand that supply.

The last trade facilitation action merely calls for G20 countries to “Support the efforts of international organizations (WTO, FAO, WFP, etc.) to analyze the impacts of COVID-19 on global agricultural supplies, distribution chains and agri-food production and trade.” Para. 1.2.8. Many of the G20 are signatories to statements indicating they will not impose export restraints on agricultural goods or urge restraint on the use of such restraints. There has not been a food shortage in 2020, and mechanisms put in place after the 2007-2008 food shortages to monitor food supplies have helped to provide governments with better information on likely problems. At the same time, the COVID-19 pandemic has created challenges in getting agricultural products harvested, processed and distributed. If these challenges are not properly handled, the world could find local or regional food shortages not because of lack of product but from an inability to get the product harvested, processed and distributed. With COVID-19 outbreaks in meat processing plants in various countries (United States, Canada, Germany to name just three) and with travel restrictions limiting movement of temporary farm workers, the challenges are real. Work of the international organizations is important for information gathering and dissemination.

Transparency

There are two action items under transparency — to share experiences and best practices; to notify trade-related measures to the WTO as required by obligations to the WTO.

The first should be helpful depending on openness of governments and willingness of governments to share experiences in fact. The latter action reflects the fact that countries (whether G20 or otherwise) have in some cases been slow to provide notifications or have taken limited views of their obligations to report certain trade related activities.

Operation of logistics networks

The four agreed actions under this title all involve trade ministers encouraging G20 Transport Ministers to take actions that will speed the movement of medical goods, increasing air cargo capacity, improve transparency on enforcement measures and “to abide by international practices and guidelines to ensure the movement of goods through maritime channels.” Paras. 1.4.1 – 1.4.4.

Support for micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs)

There are two action items for this topic — calling for reports from international organizations that would look at the “disruption of global value chains caused by the pandemic on MSMEs”; and encouraging enhancement of communication channels and networks for MSMEs, including through deepened collaboration with the private sector.” Paras. 1.5.1 and 1.5.2.

MSMEs are important engines of economic growth for all countries and are significantly adversely affected by the governmental actions needed to address the COVID-19 pandemic. For many countries, the bulk of the response for MSMEs will be through financial support legislation as can be seen by summaries of actions taken compiled by one or more of the international organizations. See, e.g., IMF, Policy Responses to COVID-19, https://www.imf.org/en/Topics/imf-and-covid19/Policy-Responses-to-COVID-19 Thus, the two actions contained in the G20 trade and investment ministers statement are helpful for considering future actions but don’t address the core immediate needs which are handled by other ministers.

Longer-term collective actions

The Annex also contains nineteen specific agreed actions for the longer term. The actions are broken into three topics — supporting the mutilateral trading system; building resilience in global supply chains; and strengthening international investment.

Like the short-term actions, the agreed list reflects the limitations on achieving G20 consensus because of different perspectives of G20 members. Some members like the EU have an interest in pursuing tariff eliminations on medical goods, an issue that the U.S. is not willing to explore until the pandemic has passed. Thus, there is no action item to achieve tariff elimination on such products in the longer-term actions.

Supporting the multilateral trading system

There are seven action items which include WTO reform (para 2.1.1), how the G20 can support work at the WTO (para 2.1.2), strengthening transparency and WTO notifications (para. 2.1.3), working “together to deliver a free, fair, inclusive, non-discriminatory, transparent, predictable and stable trade and investment environment and to keep our markets open” (para. 2.1.4), “work to ensure a level playing field” (para. 2.1.5), importance of interface between trade and digital economy and need for e-commerce agreement (para. 2.1.6), and exploring “COVID-19 related WTO initiative to promote open and more resilient supply chains, and expand production capacity and trade” in medical goods (para. 2.1.7).

These action items will have very different meanings depending on the G20 member who is interpreting them. Thus, the EU, Japan and the U.S. would have very different interpretations of ensuring a level playing field than would China and possibly others. India and South Africa have different views on e-commerce and making permanent no tariffs on digital trade than would the U.S., Japan and others

Still support for WTO reform, global rules on e-commerce, increased transparency and the other issues should help provide some focus in the ongoing efforts at the WTO for a future agenda and reform.

As noted in the short-term actions, greater focus by G20 countries on the supply/demand imbalance in medical goods is critical to avoid many of the same shortage issues in future pandemics or future waves of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thus, the support for para. 2.1.7 is potentially important.

Building resilience in global supply chains

There are five action items included under this topic which are positive. These include sharing best practices, strengthening cooperation on regulation of trade (including customs and electronic document management), ensuring transparency of trade-related information useful to MSMEs, encouraging cooperation between multinationals and MSMEs, and establishing voluntary guidelines that would permit essential cross-border travel during a health crisis. Paras. 2.2.1 – 2.2.5.

While these action items could be useful going forward, there is a major omission in this important category. Does building resilience in global supply chains necessitate building in increased redundancy or for onshoring some products or inputs? This is an important issue that has raised concerns among some G20 members that there is too great dependence on certain countries for input materials and that supply chains don’t have sufficient redundancy or are too “global” and not sufficiently regional or national. The United States, for example, has expressed concerns about over dependence on other countries and has been looking at encouraging domestic production of some key products/inputs. Such an approach is not supported by the EU or China. See statement of Ambassador Lighthizer at the virtual G20 Trade and Investment Ministers meeting of May 14 and the statements of the U.S., EU and Chinese Ambassadors to the WTO’s virtual General Council meeting on COVID-19 responses lays out the different perspective on this and some other issues. See https://ustr.gov/about-us/policy-offices/press-office/press-releases/2020/may/second-g20-extraordinary-trade-and-investment-ministers-meeting-remarks-ambassador-robert-e; https://geneva.usmission.gov/2020/05/15/statement-by-ambassador-dennis-shea-at-the-may-15-2020-general-council-meeting/; https://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/world-trade-organization-wto/79401/eu-statement-informal-general-council-meeting-15-may-2020_en; http://wto2.mofcom.gov.cn/article/chinaviewpoins/202005/20200502965217.shtml. While G20 countries generally all agree that it is not possible to be self-sufficient in the medical goods area, that view doesn’t answer the question of whether supply chains should be changed or whether there are certain products where a country or countries could decide self-sufficiency is sufficiently important to take different actions. From the very different views on this topic, it is not surprising that the G20 collective long-term actions were limited in the building resilience group of actions, and such differences also likely influenced the language used in the third section on strengthening international investment.

Strengthening international investment

The last seven long-term collective actions focus on the obvious need for improved investment in medical goods to reduce the stress on the global system that has flowed from the imbalance in supply versus demand and the lack of adequate national, regional and global inventories.

Collective actions include sharing best practices on promoting investments in sectors where there have been shortages (para. 2.3.2), working together to identify key areas where additional investment is needed in both medical goods and agriculture (para. 2.3.3), and four paragraphs (2.3.4 – 2.3.7) encouraging investment in new capacity, working with the private sector to identify opportunities, and other items. The last action item calls on G20 governments to “Encourage cooperation on technical assistance and capacity building provided to developing and least developed countries on investment promotion.” Para. 2.3.7.

Because many countries have been encouraging expanded production of medical goods since the outbreak of the pandemic, there is a great deal of investment that has been happening, including converting (at least short term) production lines to medical goods in short supply. Missing from the collective actions is any encouragement to the Finance Ministers to ensure the international organizations work with developing and least developed countries to ensure adequate regional inventories of medical goods to help such countries address outbreaks of COVID-19.

The G20 Trade and Investment Ministers Statement of May 14 is embedded below.

G20SS_Statement_G20-Second-Trade-Investment-Ministerial-Meeting_EN-1

Conclusion

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to infect millions of people around the world and has resulted in massive economic dislocations and the loss of tens of millions of jobs just in the United States. The G20 has been doing a reasonable job of providing leadership in how to address the pandemic and how to help the world recover as the pandemic recedes. The significant differences between G20 members on some issues have resulted in actions being taken that are either aspirational or simply encouraged, as stronger action was not possible absent consensus. But the May 14 Ministerial Statement is another positive step and provides ongoing recognition of needing to address the supply/demand imbalance to permit all countries to be able to obtain medical goods needed when the pandemic creates hot spots in their countries.

World Trade Organization — Search for a new Director-General

On May 14, 2020, the WTO’s Director-General Roberto Azevedo announced during a virtual meeting of all WTO Members that he would be stepping down from his position on August 31st, one year ahead of the end of his second four year term which ends August 31, 2021. His message to the membership was that the decision was personal and was intended to permit the WTO to choose a new Director-General hopefully before his departure and to avoid a dilution of effort needed for the next Ministerial Conference which has been postponed from June 2020 to either summer or winter of 2021. The current Chair of the WTO General Council, Ambassador David Walker of New Zealand, indicated that he would be notifying Members shortly of the start of the selection process and would be consulting to see if the process could be expedited in light of DG Azevedo’s departure in three and a half months. Both statements are linked here and reproduced below. https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/dgra_14may20_e.htm.

WTO-_-2020-News-items-DG-Azevêdo-announces-he-will-step-down-on-31-August

Procedures for the Appointment of Directors-General

Since 2003, there have been procedures for the appointment of directors-general adopted by the General Council of the WTO (10 December 2002), The procedures are included in WT/L/509.

The timeline laid out in the procedures calls for the process to start nine months prior to the “expiry of the term of an incumbent Director-General.” WT/L/509, para. 7. So the current situation will either run over beyond DG Azevedo’s departure (indeed potentially to as late as sometime in February 2021) or will have to be seriously expedited (as potentially permitted under para. 23).

While expediting the process is possible, the various steps required by the process suggest that it is highly unlikely a new WTO Director-General will have been agreed to by the time DG Azevedo steps down. Thus, the WTO will likely face a vacancy for some period of time. Para. 23 of the procedures agreed to would then require the General Council to designate one of the four Deputy Directors-General to serve as Acting Director-General until the selection process for a new Director-General is completed. Thus, if there is a vacancy beginning September 1st, the General Council will be selecting an Acting Director-General from among these individuals — Yonov Frederick Agah (Nigeria), Karl Brauner (Germany), Alan Wolff (US) and Yi Xiaozhun (China).

Timing of Steps Absent Expedition

The procedures (WT/L/509) provide for the following timeline if a selection process occurs within the nine months outlined:

  1. “Members shall have one month after the start of the appointment process to nominate candidates. Nominations shall be submitted by Members only, and in respect of their own nationals.” Para. 8.
  2. Chair of the General Council has materials distributed to members as received and sends a consolidated list of candidates after the close of the one month period. Para. 10.
  3. “The candidates nominated shall then have three months to make themselves known to Members and to engage in discussions on the pertinent issues facing the Organization.” Para. 8.
  4. “As early as possible after the close of the one-month nomination period, candidates shall be invited to meet with Members at a formal General Council meeting. Candidates will be invited to make a brief presentation, including their vision for the WTO, to be followed by a question- and-answer period.” Para. 14.
  5. Months 5 and 6 after initiation, “the General Council shall proceed, through a process of consultations, to narrow the field of candidates and ultimately to arrive at its choice for appointment.” Para. 15.
  6. The process which is led by the Chair of the General Council and several facilitators, looks to find the candidate “around whom consensus can be built.” Para. 17. Depending on the number of candidates, there can be successive rounds to find candidates least likely to attract consensus who are then expected to withdraw. Para. 18.
  7. If successful, the Chair of the General Council with the support of the facilitators will “submit the name of the candidate most likely to attract consensus and recommend his or her appointment by the General Council.” Para. 19.
  8. “The process shall conclude with a meeting of the General Council convened not later than three months prior to the expiry of an incumbent’s term, at which a decision to appoint a new Director-General shall be taken.” Para. 7
  9. If General Council can’t take a decision by consensus, Members can “consider the possibility of recourse to a vote as a last resort.” Para. 20.

The full list of procedures is embedded below (WT/L/509).

WTL509

Assuming Amb. Walker sends out a notification in the next day or so, a normal process would result in a General Council decision in the second half of November. If there is a vacancy, the new Director-General should be able to assume responsibilities as soon thereafter as his/her schedule permits, even if not three months after the decision.

Process in 2012-2013

The selection process in 2012 started in December with nine applications received by December 31. The WTO press release showing the candidates and linking to their statements, CVs and other materials is linked here. https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news13_e/dgsel_03jan13_e.htm. There was interest by many developing countries in seeing that the selection process kept in mind paragraph 13 of the procedures dealing with representativeness of candidates which states,

“13. In order to ensure that the best possible candidate is selected to head the WTO at any given time, candidatures representing the diversity of Members across all regions shall be invited in the nominations process. Where Members are faced in the final selection with equally meritorious candidates, they shall take into consideration as one of the factors the desirability of reflecting the diversity of the WTO’s membership in successive appointments to the post of Director-General.”

Because the DG slot at the WTO had been filled by three Europeans, one New Zealander and one from Thailand (with Pascal Lamy of France the last DG), many developing countries sought a developing country candidate assuming there were well qualified candidates from many countries. See WT/GC/M/139 at 13-15 (paras. 50 – 60).

Of the nine candidates, eight were from countries that classify themselves as developing countries within the WTO (Ghana, Costa Rica, Indonesia, Kenya, Jordan, Mexico, the Republic of Korea and Brazil). The sole developed country candidate was from New Zealand. All candidates had solid credentials.

Meetings with the candidates by the General Council occurred in late January (29-31) where each candidate was given 15 minutes for an opening statement and then participated in a question and answer session of an hour and fifteen minutes. See, e.g., WT/GC/M/142 (minutes of meeting held on Jan. 29-31) posted 16 May 2013.

Three rounds of consultations were held beginning in early April, with the result that at a General Council meeting on May 14, the Chair of the General Council put forward Roberto Azevedo from Brazil as the candidate most likely to achieve consensus and the General Council agreed. WT/GC/M/144 (minutes of meeting held on May 14) posted 4 July 2013.

Mr. Azevedo then assumed the role of Director-General as of September 1, 2013 and was reappointed for a second four years in 2017.

Prognosis for 2020

One would expect that there will be a number of developed country Members who put forward candidates in the next thirty days on the assumption that the pattern will be developed, developing, developed, developing and Brazil has just completed seven years with their candidate as DG.

Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Switzerland, Norway, the United Kingdom and one or more member countries from the EU would seem to be possibilities. The U.S. is not included in the list simply because of its prior lack of putting forward candidates and current Administration and Congressional concerns with the WTO, although the U.S. concern with the need for reforms could result in a surprise. The Republic of Korea is not included as it has considered itself a developing country, though it may still put forward a candidate and note that it is not seeking special and differential treatment on current or future negotiations in light of its development. I would be surprised if the United Kingdom puts forward a candidate just based on the serious trade negotiations that the U.K. is engaged in with the EU and the United States and their recent resumption of trade policy responsibilities following Brexit.

Developing countries are not prevented from putting forward candidates, and I assume that there will be some candidates put forward. Singapore would fit a profile similar to Korea in that it has indicated it will not seek special and differential treatment on current or future negotiations. Africa has not had a Director-General selected from among its candidates, and there has been only one Asian candidate selected previously.

What isn’t known is the willingness of the Members to streamline the nomination and selection process to permit a resolution while DG Azevedo is still active. If there are very few candidates, it may be easier for Members to agree to expedited procedures.

With the serious issues facing the world economy and the global trading system, maximum cooperation in selecting a new Director-General would be very important to helping focus a global response and updating of the WTO. Let’s hope that this is an issue on which the membership can agree to act quickly.

U.S.-China Phase I Agreement — Some Progress on Structural Changes; Far Behind on Trade in Goods and Services

In prior posts, I reviewed the U.S.-China Phase I Agreement and the commitments made by the parties. See https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/01/19/u-s-china-phase-1-agreement-details-on-the-expanding-trade-chapter/; https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/01/15/u-s-china-phase-1-trade-agreement-signed-on-january-15-an-impressive-agreement-if-enforced/. While for many the promised start of a Phase II was viewed as the more important in light of the issues not reached in the partial deal that was struck in January, the COVID-19 pandemic has absorbed much of the global energy for both countries, and no new talks have started.

Moreover, with both countries exchanging charges against the other in terms of the origin of the virus causing the pandemic and more recently concerns about transparency on the virus in China, there have been heightened tensions between the two countries. with some comments in the press calling for an end of the agreement by each country.

A recent telephone call between U.S. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, USTR Ambassador Lighthizer and China’s Vice Premier Liu He seemed aimed at keeping the Phase I Agreement moving forward. The US press release on the call is reproduced below.

“USTR and Treasury Statement on Call With China

“05/07/2020

“Vice Premier Liu He, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin, and Ambassador Robert Lighthizer participated in a conference call today. They discussed economic and trade issues, including the recently concluded Phase One agreement. The parties shared updates on COVID-19 and their assessments of its effects on economic growth as well as the measures their countries are taking to provide support to their economies.

“The parties discussed the ongoing process of implementing the Phase One agreement between the two countries that went into effect February 14. Both sides agreed that good progress is being made on creating the governmental infrastructures necessary to make the agreement a success. They also agreed that in spite of the current global health emergency, both countries fully expect to meet their obligations under the agreement in a timely manner. Meetings required by the agreement have been conducted via conference call and will continue on a regular basis.”

https://ustr.gov/about-us/policy-offices/press-office/press-releases/2020/may/ustr-and-treasury-statement-call-china.

Indeed, notices on Chinese Ministry websites as well as statements from U.S. government officials have made clear that China has been making progress on a number of the changes to laws and regulations where commitments were undertaken in the Phase I Agreement. For example on the large number of agricultural program changes that China agreed to make, USDA and USTR released a joint statement in late February, shortly after the Agreement took effect, reviewing the progress being made. See https://ustr.gov/about-us/policy-offices/press-office/press-releases/2020/february/usda-and-ustr-announce-progress-implementation-us-china-phase-one-agreement.

USDA-and-USTR-Announce-Progress-on-Implementation-of-U.S.-China-Phase-One-Agreement-_-United-States-Trade-Representative

Similarly, the United States has taken steps to address obligations that it undertook in the Agreement such as authorizing the importation of citrus products from China. See 85 FR 20975-20983 (April 15, 2020; https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/newsroom/stakeholder-info/sa_by_date/sa-2020/sa-04/china-citrus.

“APHIS Authorizes Importation of Fresh Citrus Fruit from China

“Last Modified: Apr 14, 2020 Print

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is authorizing the importation of five types of commercially produced fresh citrus fruit from China into the continental United States. After thorough analysis, APHIS scientists determined that pummelo, Nanfeng honey mandarin, ponkan, sweet orange, and Satsuma mandarin fruit from China can be safely imported into the United States under a systems approach to protect against the introduction of plant pests. 

“A systems approach is a series of measures taken by growers, packers, and shippers that, in combination, minimize pest risks prior to importation into the United States. In this case, the systems approach includes importation in commercial consignments only, registration of places of production and packinghouses, certification that the fruit is free of quarantine pests, trapping program for fruit flies, periodic inspections of places of production, grove sanitation, and postharvest disinfection and treatment. This completes agreements on another Chinese commodity listed in Annex 11: Plant Health of the Economic and Trade Agreement between the United States of America and The People’s Republic of China, Phase One.

“This notice of authorization will go into effect on the date of publication in the Federal Register, April 15, 2020. The docket with information about this decision is available here upon publication on April 15, 2020: http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=APHIS-2014-0005.”

Expanding Trade -Growing Exports to China from the U.S. by $76.7 Billion in 2020

One of the important parts of the Phase I Agreement was the chapter on Expanding Trade and the commitments by China to increase imports from the United States by some $200 billion over 2020 and 2021 above the 2017 figures (i.e., U.S. exports to China ahead of the additional tariffs imposed by the U.S. and then China against goods from each other). The figures for 2020 were for increases of $76.7 billion, $64.9 billion in certain goods and $12.8 billion in certain service sectors.

The challenges to the Chinese economy in the first quarter because of COVID-19 and to the United States (and many other countries) for part of the 1st quarter and at least the second quarter of 2020 because of the pandemic makes the large increase in purchases seem unlikely. Certainly, first quarter figures for U.S. domestic goods exports paint a picture suggesting 2020 will not meet objectives. The goods categories that were included in Annex 6.1 and the Attachment thereto of the Phase I Agreement accounted for 59.1% of U.S. domestic exports to China in 2017 (the base year)– $70.9 billion of $119.9 billion total U.S. domestic exports to China. In the first quarter of 2020, the goods categories covered by the Annex showed U.S. domestic exports of $12.7 billion which would leave $122.1 billion to be exported in the last nine months of 2020 ($13.57 billion/month or greater each month than the U.S. exported in the first quarter of the year).

The remaining $49 billion of U.S. domestic exports don’t have particular export targets, but are running well below 2017 levels and indeed are more than 21% lower than the first quarter 2019 levels, suggesting 2020 levels of just $28.29 billion.

The table below shows the US exports for 2017-March 2020 and the objective for 2020 included in Annex 6.1. All figures are in $ Billions.

Product2017201820191st Qtr.
2019
1st Qtr.
2020
Manufactured goods
1. industrial machinery$10.949$12.288$11.062$2.318$2.500
2. electrical equip. &
machinery
$4.311$4.586$4.283$1.008$1.078
3. pharmaceutical
products
$2.089$2.126$2.362$0.483$0.665
4. aircraft* $0$0$0$0$0
5. vehicles$10.093$6.487$7.050$1.888$1.049
6. optical and medical
instruments
$3.135$3.398$3.527$0.763$$0.806
7. iron and steel$1.176$0.652$0.285$0.075$0.069
8. other manufactured
goods
$10.702$11.168$11.914$3.167$3.021
Total MFG goods$42.456$40.705$40.484$9.702$9.188
Agriculture
9. oilseeds$12.225$3.119$7.989$1.696$1.028
10. meat$0.559$0.440$1.193$0.110$0.727
11. cereals$1.358$0.696$0.313$0.015$0.119
12. cotton$0.973$0.921$0.707$0.197$0.290
13. other agricultural
commodities
$4.504$4.121$3.680$0.765$0.768
14. seafood$1.234$1.055$0.822$0.200$0.132
Total Agriculture$20.852$10.353$14.704$2.983$3.063
Energy
15. liquefied natural
gas
$0.424$0.464$0.063$0.036$0.059
15. crude oil$4.304$5.374$2.478$0.405$0.182
17. refined products$2.444$1.781$0.469$0.185$0.141
18. coal$0.403$0.311$0.127$0.047$0.048
Total Energy$7.575$7.930$3.138$0.674$0.429
Total Phase I Goods HS$70.882$58.987$58.326$13.360$12.680
Other domestic exports$49.028$50.593$36.005$9.435$6.798
Total domestic exports
to China
$119.911$109.580$94.331$22.795$19.478

Annex 6.1 has manufactured goods increasing $32.9 billion above 2017 levels for a total of $75.356 billion for 2020; leaving $66.168 billion for the last nine months of the year or $7,352 billion/month for the last three quarters.

Similarly, Annex 6.1 has agriculture imports by China from the U.S. increasing $12.5 billion over 2017 levels to $33.354 billion for 2020 which would leave $31.015 billion for the last nine months of 2020 ($3.446 billion/month).

Finally, Annex 6.1 shows energy increasing by $18.5 billion in 2020 over 2017 levels. That means 2020 has a target of $26.075 billion with $25.646 billion needing to be exported over the last nine months ($2.86 billion/month).

With the ongoing pandemic and Chinese industry operating below full capacity and U.S. industry and agriculture still coping with the market problems in the U.S. from efforts to cope with COVID-19, it is hard to see the goods commitments being met in 2020.

The challenges for the US service sector in exports to China are equally daunting. Total U.S. exports of services to China in 2017 were $56.009 billion of which $55.458 billion are in categories covered by Annex 6.1. Specifically, category 19, charges for use of intellectual property were $7.591 billion in 2017 for U.S. services exports to China. Business travel and tourism (category 20) showed U.S. exports to China of $32.705 billion in 2017. Financial services and insurance (category 21) had exports to China of $4.208 billion in 2017, while other services (category 22) showed exports of $10.030 billion to China. Finally, cloud and related services had exports to China in 2017 of $0.924 billion.

U.S. services export data for 2020 doesn’t show the breakdown by category by country. However, China has a much larger percent of U.S. services exports in the travel and tourism category (about 25% for all countries vs. 58.4% for China). U.S. data for the first quarter of 2020 show exports of travel and tourism services to the world down 19.5% with March being down more than 50%.

With the travel limitations in place in the U.S. and that have been in place in China and with the slow ability of the U.S. to reopen much of the travel and tourism related sectors (transportation, hotels, restaurants, entertainment venues, etc.), there seems to be no realistic scenario by which US service exports to China grow $12.5 billion in 2020.

Conclusion

The U.S.-China Phase I Agreement was an important step in trying to find a path forward for normalized trade relations between the world’s two largest economies. The path requires the start of a Phase 2 but importantly needs the building of confidence between the two countries based on achieving results in implementing the Phase I Agreement.

There have been extraordinary events clouding the global community as nations struggle to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Those events have complicated the ability of the U.S. and China to achieve in 2020 what the Phase I Agreement contemplates, at least in terms of expanded trade. That said, both China and the U.S. have implemented certain provisions of the Agreement, and there has been a recognition by the U.S. Administration of efforts by China to comply with modifications to laws, regulations, etc. agreed to in the Phase I Agreement.

The first two months that the Agreement has been in place have not resulted in significant movement on implementing the important chapter of expanding trade. For the United States, struggling to right its economy amidst the pandemic, a strong effort by China to honor its commitments to expand trade significantly in 2020, would be a welcome development and hopefully lead to the reengagement by the two countries to start and complete a phase 2 Agreement.

The COVID-19 Pandemic – An Update on Shifting Patterns of Infections and Implications for Medical Goods Needs

Since late March there have been significant shifts in the number of COVID-19 cases being reported by countries and within countries. Many countries where the virus hit hardest in the first months of the year have been seeing steady progress in the reduction of cases. Some in Asia, Oceania and in Europe are close to no new cases. Others in Europe and some in Asia have seen significant contractions in the number of new cases. Other countries have seen a flattening of new cases and the beginnings of reductions (e.g., the U.S. and Canada). And, of course, other countries are caught up in a rapid increase of cases (e.g., Russia, Brazil, Ghana, Nigeria, India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia).

As reviewed in a prior post, the shifting pattern of infections has implications for the needs for medical goods and open trade on those products. https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/04/28/shifting-trade-needs-during-the-covid-19-pandemic/. As the growth in number of cases is seen in developing and least developed countries, it is important that countries who have gotten past the worst part of Phase 1 of the pandemic eliminate or reduce export restraints, if any, that were imposed to address medical needs in country during the crush of the pandemic in country. It is also critical that the global efforts to increase production of medical goods including test kits and personal protective equipment continue to eliminate the imbalance between global demand and global supply and to permit the restoration and/or creation of national and regional buffer stocks needed now and to address any second phase to the pandemic. And as tests for therapeutics and vaccines advance, it is critical that there be coordinated efforts to see that products are available to all populations with needs at affordable prices.

While there is some effort at greater coordination on research and development as reviewed in a post last week (https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/05/06/covid-19-the-race-for-diagnostics-therapeutics-and-vaccines-and-availability-for-all/), concerns exist that as nations get past the first phase of the pandemic, countries will turn their focus to other needs and not in fact address the severe gaps between pandemic supply needs and existing capacity and inventories. Such an outcome would exacerbate the challenges the world is facing from the current pandemic and its likely phase 2 later this year.

The following table shows total cases as of May 11 and the number of cases over fourteen day periods ending April 11, April 27 and May 11 as reported by the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control. The data are self-explanatory but show generally sharply reduced rates of new infections in Europe and in a number of Asian countries, though there are increases in a few, including in India and Pakistan and in a number of countries in the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia. North America has seen a flattening of the number of new infections in the U.S. and Canada with some small reductions in numbers while Mexico is seeing growth from currently relatively low levels. Central and South America have some countries with rapid increases (e.g., Brazil, Chile, Peru). The Russian Federation is going through a period of huge increases. While there are still relatively few cases in Africa, there are countries who are showing significant increases, albeit from small bases.

Countrycases
through 5-11
14 days
to 4-11
14 days
to 4-27
14 days
to 5-11
Austria15,7875,8631,252598
Belgium53,08119,38316,4876,947
Bulgaria1,965342625665
Croatia2,187909430157
Cyprus89843318481
Czechia8,1233,4531,413719
Denmark10,4293,7732,4011,854
Estonia1,73968333496
Finland5,9621,7441,6021,386
France139,06357,71229,17214,488
Germany169,57569,07632,17714,382
Greece2,7161,045392210
Hungary3,2849671,125701
Ireland22,9965,9689,6073,734
Italy219,07061,07941,31221,395
Latvia939332161127
Lithuania1,47964138730
Luxembourg3,8861,618442163
Malta4962117048
Netherlands42,62714,49412,2584,782
Poland15,9964,5664,9434,379
Portugal27,58111,2047,2793,717
Romania15,3624,1754,7364,326
Slovakia1,45742063778
Slovenia1,45752820250
Spain224,39092,96343,04516,756
Sweden26,3226,6398,1577,682
EU271,018,867370,221220,830109,551
United Kingdom219,18355,72968,56166,343
EU27 + UK1,238,050425,950289,391175,894
United States1,329,799396,874408,339363,889
Canada68,84817,45822,51921,964
Mexico35,0223,12710,01620,345
North America1,433,669417,459440,874406,198
Japan15,7983,8486,1302,413
South Korea10,909972201171
Singapore23,3361,17711,0929,712
Australia6,9412,860391228
New Zealand 1,1476195825
Subtotal58,1319,47617,87212,549
China84,0101,058990-189
India67,1526,57418,74039,260
Indonesia14,0322,4664,6415,150
Iran107,60335,86018,79517,122
Turkey138,65741,33153,17428,527
Israel16,4777,3734,2531,079
Bangladesh14,6573764,7959,241
Kazakhstan5,1266471,7562,409
Krygyzstan1,016281276321
Malaysia6,6562,1851,097876
Pakistan30,9413,5917,95417,613
Saudi Arabia39,0482,54713,06021,526
Taiwan4401134111
Thailand3,0151,38234393
Vietnam2888660
Sri Lanka86391313340
Subtotal529,981105,961130,234143,397
Russian Federation209,68810,88165,179128,739
Ukraine15,2321,9856,2326,223
Belarus22,9731,8877,88512,510
Georgia635153229149
Subtotal248,52814,90679,525147,621
South Africa10,0158332,3735,469
Egypt9,4001,2992,2545,081
Morocco6,0631,1032,4041,998
Algeria5,7231,4561,4682,341
Burkina Faso751302135119
Cameroon2,579715801958
Cote d’Ivoire1,700379576550
D.R. of the Congo1,024165225565
Djibouti1,280137809187
Ghana4,2632419842,713
Guinea2,1462078441,052
Kenya672158158317
Mali70483273315
Mauritius33222480
Niger821428167125
Nigeria4,3992249503,126
Senegal1,7091463911,038
Somalia1,05418411618
Sudan1,363122181,126
Tunisia1,03244424283
U.R. of Tanzania50919268209
subtotal57,4698,59315,95927,990
Switzerland30,22212,1243,7581,244
Liechtenstein832030
Norway8,0992,6631,090594
Iceland1,801785919
Subtotal40,20515,5924,9421,847
Argentina5,7761,2851,5642,009
Brazil162,69916,22139,719100,811
Chile28,8661,9346,11815,535
Colombia11,0631,9342,6035,684
Dominican Republic10,3472,0393,1684,212
Ecuador29,5595,53415,2536,840
Panama8,4482,1882,3792,669
Peru67,3075,26219,99839,790
Costa Rica79229510097
El Salvador958105173660
Subtotal325,81536,79791,075178,307
All Other Countries131,67726,78038,80955,215
Total of all countries4,063,5251,061,5141,108,6811,149,018

The WTO maintains a data base of actions by WTO members in response to the COVID-19 pandemic which either restrict medical goods exports or which liberalize and expedite imports of such products. As of May 8, the WTO showed 173 measures that the WTO Secretariat had been able to confirm, with many countries having temporary export restrictions on medical goods, some restraints on exports of food products, and a variety of measures to reduce tariffs on imported medical goods or expedite their entry. https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/covid19_e/trade_related_goods_measure_e.htm. Some WTO Members other than those included in the list have had and may still have informal restrictions.

The EU and its member states are presumably in a position now or should be soon to eliminate any export restrictions based on the sharp contraction of cases in the EU as a whole over the last six weeks – last 14 days are roughly 59% lower than the 14 days ending on April 11. Similarly, countries with small numbers of cases and rates of growth which seem small may be candidates for eliminating export restrictions. Costa Rica, Kyrgyzstan, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Georgia, Norway and Switzerland would appear to fit into this latter category. Most other countries with restrictions notified to the WTO appear to be either in stages where cases continue at very high levels (e.g., United States) or where the number of cases is growing rapidly (e.g., Russia, Belarus, Saudi Arabia, Ecuador, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan). Time will tell whether the WTO obligation of such measures being “temporary” is honored by those who have imposed restrictions. Failure to do so will complicate the efforts to see that medical goods including medicines are available to all on an equitable basis and at affordable prices.

COVID-19 — US International Trade Commission report on U.S. imports and tariffs on COVID-19 related goods

In a post from April 6th, I reviewed a WTO document on medical goods relevant to COVID-19. https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/04/06/covid-19-wto-report-on-medical-goods-fao-report-on-food-security/. As reviewed in that post, the data compiled by the WTO were useful but both over- and underinclusive. Because tariffs are harmonized for most countries at the 6-digit HS level, comparable data was only available at that level for the WTO’s analysis even though virtually every category included many products that are not relevant to treating COVID-19. The list also doesn’t include input materials as recognized by the WTO. I had suggested that it would be useful to have WTO Members supply information at their most disaggregated level of detail to see if a tighter fit of at least finished products could be identified in terms of trade.

The United States has now provided a report that provides its data at the 10-digit HTS level of detail for imports into the United States. It would be helpful if other major trading nations similarly provided their detail data to the WTO and for public release. Hopefully, the U.S. will provide similar data for its exports in the coming months.

Development of U.S. import data

USTR has been exploring possible elimination of duties on medical goods needed for the U.S. response to COVID-19 and is accepting comments through late June. The U.S. International Trade Commission (“USITC”) was asked by the Chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee and the Chairman of U.S. Senate Committee on Finance to conduct “a factfinding investigation to identify imported goods related to the response to COVID-19, their source countries, tariff classifications, and applicable rates of duty.”. The report from the USITC’s Investigation 332-576 was completed in late April and is now available from the USITC webpage. USITC, COVID-19 Related Goods: U.S. Imports and Tariffs, Publication 5047 (April 2020). Updates to the report may be made through June 2020. See https://www.usitc.gov/press_room/news_release/2020/er0504ll1540.htm

In the report, the USITC compiled data on 112 10-digit HTS categories but noted that many of these categories which are generally more detailed than the 6-digit categories used in the WTO paper still contain large quantities of goods that are not relevant to the COVID-19 response. Thus, the U.S. data, while more refined that the 6-digit data used by the WTO are still overinclusive. To the extent major input data for products needed to address COVID-19 are not included in the USITC investigation, the results are underinclusive as well.

The USITC Executive Summary notes that of the 112 HTS categories:

6 cover COVID-19 test kits/testing instruments,

9 cover disinfectants ad sterilization products,

22 cover medical imagining, diagnostic, oxygen therapy, pulse oximeters, and other equipment,

20 cover medicines (pharmaceuticals),

19 cover non-PPE medical consumables and hospital supplies,

27 cover personal protective equipment, and

9 covered other products.

Looking at what tariffs were applied, the ITC looked both at ordinary customs duties (Column 1 rates) and also whether additional duties on products from China were owed because of the 301 investigation and subsequent actions by the Administration. The USITC indicated that 76 products (68%) were duty-free for ordinary customs purposes and that 36 products (32%) were subject to duties, though one or more countries’ goods entered duty free for each of the 36 products.

For goods from China, 59 categories were not subject to additional 301 duties, 55 products were subject to additional duties (39 products at 25% additional duties; 16 products at 7.5% additional duties) although 28 of the 55 categories were subject to exclusions (total exclusions for 13 product categories; partial exclusions for the remaining 15 categories).

The Commission pulled import data for 2017-2019 (including for several categories which expired before 2020 for completeness of the underlying data). The data show US imports by HTS category and then show the top 5 source countries by HTS and the all other country customs value.

The data from the investigation will be used by USTR and Congress to inform Administration decisions on which products should receive tariff reductions/eliminations.

Using the ITC’s list, the trade data can presently be updated through March 2020 as March 2020 data are now publicly available.. The total for the 112 categories for 2019 was U.S. imports for consumption of $105.3 billion up from $81.3 billion in 2017 and $93.7 billion in 2018. Imports in the first quarter of 2020 were $28.6 billion up from $24.6 billion in the first quarter of 2019.

The top 15 sources of imports into the U.S. in 2019 are the following. Data also show the percentage change in the first quarter of 2020 compared to the first quarter of 2019.

Top sources of imports Customs Value 2019 % change 2019-2020

Ireland $14.173 billion +12.77%

China $12.313 billion -14.13%

Germany $12.228 billion +20.35%

Mexico $ 8.791 billion + 4.44%

Canada $ 6.026 billion +19.57%

Belgium $ 5.952 billion +63.21%

Switzerland $ 5.082 billion +39.80%

Japan $ 4.144 billion +28.38%

United Kingdom $ 3.409 billion +11.42%

India $ 2.816 billion +16.71%

South Korea $ 2.694 billion -30.68%

Netherlands $ 2.545 billion +94.16%

Italy $ 2.177 billion +75.66%

Malaysia $ 2.163 billion + 7.65%

Costa Rica $ 1.693 billion +22.50%

All Other $16.574 billion +15.13%

Total $105.267 billion +16.16%

Different supplying countries focus on different parts of the medical goods needs of the United States. For example, the top four HTS categories imports from Ireland accounted for more than $10 billion of the $14.173 billion from the country in 2019 and all were medicines. In comparison, the top two HTS categories of imports into the U.S. from China were basket categories (other articles of plastic; other made up articles) which are presumably personal protective equipment (“PPE”) products and were $5 billion of the $12.313 billion. While ventilators were also a significant item, most other major items appear to fit within the PPE category.

Conclusion

The purpose of the USITC investigation and report are to provide information to the Congress and Administration to help identify which imported products relevant to the COVID-19 response by the United States are dutiable and which products from China are also subject to additional tariffs from the 301 investigation. The Administration and Congress will use the information as part of the Administration’s review of which imported products should face a reduction or elimination of tariffs at least during the pandemic.

However, the data also provide useful information for broader use in understanding the extent of trade in goods actually relevant to the global response to COVID-19. Hopefully, the U.S. will compile comparable data on the country’s exports and other major trading nations will supply comparable data to the WTO and to the public.

COVID-19 — the race for diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines and availability for all

With the mounting global death toll, with confirmed infections of over 3.6 million and continuing to climb, with no known effective vaccine and just the beginnings of finding possible therapies to reduce the severity or length of illness from the infection, it is clear to most that there is no full return to normalcy until effective vaccines are developed and made available to all in the world community. Because the costs to the global economy from the pandemic are measured in trillions of dollars and job losses in the hundreds of millions, there is a global urgency to advance medical solutions, despite a history with prior infectious disease outbreaks which would suggest that solutions could be years away.

The severity of the pandemic has led to some extraordinary efforts to have international organizations, pharmaceutical companies, universities and government labs work collaboratively and share data. There have also been a wide range of statements made by international organizations such as the World Health Organization, governments, NGOs, and the pharmaceutical industry that diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines developed to address the COVID-19 pandemic must be developed on an expedited basis, be available equitably and be affordable. The phrase “no one is safe until everyone is safe” sums up what many leaders are saying is the goal.

Many countries with a pharmaceutical industry, university research center invloved in medical research, government agency that addresses disease control and prevention or the safety of medical supplies are engaged in research that may be company specific, university or lab specific or collaborative within the country and across countries. Governments are providing substantial financial assistance to spur research and development.

With the various infectious disease outbreaks of the last few decades, there are also groups which focus on improving the healthcare infrastructure in developing countries and least developed countries and in working to get needed tests, medicines and vaccines to countries unable to address such needs on their own. Groups like CEPI, GAVI, FIND, UNITAID are involved and are supported by the generosity of various governments and other organizations. They are all actively engaged in the response to COVID-19.

G20 Involvement

The G20 countries issued a statement on COVID-19 after an Extraordinary G20 Leaders’ Summit on March 26, 2020 which stated in part,

“We further commit to work together to increase research and development funding for vaccines and medicines, leverage digital technologies, and strengthen scientific international cooperation. We will bolster our coordination, including with the private sector, towards rapid development, manufacturing and distribution of diagnostics, antiviral medicines, and vaccines, adhering to the objectives of efficacy, safety, equity, accessibility, and affordability.”

https://g20.org/en/media/Documents/G20_Extraordinary%20G20%20Leaders%E2%80%99%20Summit_Statement_EN%20(3).pdf.

G20_Extraordinary-G20-Leaders’-Summit_Statement_EN-3

The G20 presidency on April 24, 2020 noted its support of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (“ACT”) Accelerator whose purpose is to speed development, production and equitable distribution of new COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines. The initial cost estimate for the early research and development efforts was estimated at $8 billion. The statement is embedded below

G20SS_PR_G20-ACT-Initiative-Launch_EN

European Union led initiative to obtain pledges for $8 billion

The European Union and a number of individual countries co-led an international pledging event, the Coronavirus Global Response, on May 4 which developed pledges of 7.4 billion Euros ($8 billion) The countries co-leading with the EU were France, Germany, Japan, Norway, Canada, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen moderated the event. Her opening statement is below and reflects the reality that “we will have to learn to live with the virus – until and unless we develop a vaccine”. Collaboration is critical and the objective is to see that vaccines, diagnostics and treatments against coronavirus are deployed “to every single corner of the world. And we must ensure that they are available and affordable for all.” https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/STATEMENT_20_804.

Opening_remarks_by_President_von_der_Leyen_at_the_Coronavirus_Global_Response_international_pledging_event

Besides comments from the EC’s president, other speakers included leaders from the European Council; the United Nations; the UN World Health Organization; France; Germany; Japan; Norway; Canada; Spain; United Kingdom; Saudi Arabia (2020 G20 Presidency); Jordan; South Africa (on behalf of African Union); Monaco; Turkey; Italy; Switzerland; Israel; the Netherlands; the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; Luxembourg; Sweden; Portugal; Croatia; Estonia; the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board; Bulgaria; Ireland; Serbia; Czechia (for itself, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland); Poland; Australia; Denmark; Greece; Austria; Malta; Belgium; Wellcome Trust; Latvia; South Korea; Mexico (for Latin America); Kuwait; Slovenia; Lithuania; Oman; Romania; Finland; United Arab Emirates; China; World Economic Forum; European Investment Bank; World Bank; CEPI (Coalition for Epedemic Preparedness Innovations); GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance; FIND (Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics); UNITAID; IFPMA (International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations), and the DCVMN (Developing Countries Vaccine Manufacturers Network).

The pledging event goes on through the month of May. The kick-off event lasted just under three hours. The list of speakers was impressive covering international organizations, countries (from Europe; parts of Asia, North America and the Middle East; and South Africa), NGOs, philanthropic groups, pharmaceutical companies.

The message from all was fairly uniform – collaboration is crucial to speed the findings of solutions; solutions must be available to all on an equitable basis that is affordable. The $8 billion is simply the first step in a much larger endeavor once new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines are found and one turns to the need for broad production and distribution.

Press accounts have raised questions about some of the countries which did not participate in the May 4th event – the United States, Russian Federation, India, Brazil to name four countries with active pharmaceutical industries — and with whether the pledges largely reflect expenditures already made or committed versus new commitments. For many of the no shows (and for China which was apparently a late addition and only from the Ambassador to the European Union), important pharmaceutical companies were represented by either IFPMA or by DCVMN. Moreover, there is yet time to join. And these countries all have their own research underway which is generally being done in a collaborative effort within country or with others and are making data available to other players.

There is little doubt that the pharmaceutical companies, the university research centers, and the government labs will be important players in the research and development stage. Consider the following document from IFPMA which reviews how major pharmaceutical companies are engaged in various segments of the R&D effort. IFPMA reviews how its member companies are engaged in (1) repurposing existing and testing new treatments, (2) sharing real-time trial data with governments and other companies; (3) speeding up R&D on safe and effective vaccines; (4) developing diagnostic testing and securing supply; (5) securing essential supplies for medicines and vaccines; (6) increasing and sharing capacity for medicines and vaccines; and (7) supporting global health care systems. See https://www.ifpma.org/print/?url=covid19-print&options=–viewport-size%20%221200×50%22%20–zoom%201.5%20–orientation%20%22Landscape%22.

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Will a global solution available to all present challenges for holders of intellectual property?

There are billions of dollars being spent by private companies, by research universities, government labs, and various NGOs, philanthropic groups and others in the global race to develop new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines. Much of the money spent will not result in effective solutions. Some, hopefully, will. Patent rights will arise for those developing the new products and there will thus be questions about how the new products can be made available to all at affordable prices.

Some individuals and companies may make any breakthroughs they are responsible for available to all at no cost (we have seen some of that in the past on medicines and recently on PPE products).

It is also the case, that governments can invoke exceptions to patent rights under certain circumstances and subject to certain limitations. See TRIPS Art. 31 (compulsory licensing).

Some governments (e.g., France) at the pledging event recognized the need to see that the innovators received a fair return on their investment, but also characterized COVID-19 products as “public goods”. The IFPMA in its activities has joined collaborative undertakings and has recognized the need for new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines to be available to all at affordable prices. But it is unclear what that means to the company or companies who develop a breakthrough product in terms of patent rights and revenues.

While the U.S. pharmaceutical industry has indicated that they are working with governments and insurers to see that new drugs and vaccines are available to all and affordable, they also have a blog post on the continued importance of intellectual property for pharmaceutical companies ability to tackle COVID-10. See The Catalyst, What they are saying: Intellectual property protections are critical as we work to defeat COVID-19, https://catalyst.phrma.org/what-they-are-saying-intellectual-property-protections-are-critical-as-we-work-to-defeat-covid-19.

What-they-are-saying_-Intellectual-property-protections-are-critical-as-we-work-to-defeat-COVID-19

With possible breakthroughs in the next six months or so, how this important trade aspect of rewarding innovation in the fight against COVID-19 plays out could complicate or simplify the core desire of getting effective solutions to all at affordable prices.

Other trade issues

There are already efforts underway to get WTO Members to eliminate customs duties on medical supplies needed to address COVID-19. If not already covered by that effort, one would think it would be doable to get WTO Members to agree to trade any new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines for treating COVID-19 as duty-free articles (and presumably add the inputs to such new products).

Update on food security amidst COVID-19 pandemic

On May 1, I reviewed the challenges being faced in the United States and Canada because of the large number of meat and poultry processing plants that had large numbers of workers who had tested positive for COVID-19 with facilities closing temporarily as a result. In the United States, President Trump issued an Executive Order to require the meat processing plants to remain open, but it is unclear whether steps taken by the plants will provide adequate protection to the workers to get sufficient workers back in the plants or to restore prior production levels. Indeed, the AFL-CIO’s Richard Trumka has indicated many changes in meat processing plants are needed to protect workers including increased supplies of personal protective gear, daily testing and more. See https://www.foxbusiness.com/money/coronavirus-meat-plant-workers-afl-cio-richard-trumka-1

Shortages of meat and poultry products start to appear in the United States

The concern about short-term shortages of meat and poultry products in the United States is starting to play out as news reports indicate that several hundred Wendy’s fast food facilities ran out of hamburger on May 5 and several retail operators have limited what customers can buy of meat and poultry products — Costco and Kroger, with more grocery chains and some other fast food operators noting concerns about availability as well. See May 5, 2020, New York Times, A Wendy’s With No Burgers as Meat Production Is Hit, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/05/business/coronavirus-meat-shortages.html.

As noted in the earlier post, there are adequate upstream supplies (cattle, pigs, chickens) in the United States and Canada but a short-term reduction in processing capacity, with the result of large numbers of animals being killed without being processed. There are, however, also reportedly large supplies of frozen meat products available. Id.

The European Union has a temporary surplus of beef and some other products

At the same time, the European Union has experienced shifts in demand as restaurants have been closed in many countries as governments have sought to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Similar shifts in demand have occurred in the United States and many other countries. Shifts in demand (including declines in demand for some products) in the EU have resulted in excess supplies of many agricultural products, including beef, sheep and goat meat products. The EU’s response has been in part to permit temporary waiver from EU competition law to permit certain agricultural producers to coordinate production and to stockpile some excess product. https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_20_788.

Coronavirus__Commission_adopts_package_of_measures_to_further_support_the_agri-food_sector-1

To the extent that there are short-term shortages in the United States, Canada or other countries because of the COVID-19 infections at processing plants, governments could work with trading partners facing surpluses to reduce retail price volatility. This is undoubtedly complicated for some suppliers (e.g., Australia to the U.S.) because of higher costs of air cargo shipments with the huge reduction in commercial flights. The issue will also be politically sensitive because of the challenges facing U.S. ranchers and farmers already.

Efforts by some WTO Members to reduce food security concerns

There are eighteen countries or territories that have active or inactive export restraints on some food products. Twelve of these are active and affect 9.9% of the global trade in agricultural goods subject to export restraints. See, IFPRI’s Food Export Restrictions Tracker, https://public.tableau.com/profile/laborde6680#!/vizhome/ExportRestrictionsTracker/FoodExportRestrictionsTracker?publish=yes.

Because the COVID-19 pandemic is a health crisis, and there is no current significant global shortage of agricultural products in fact, many WTO members are working together to keep agricultural markets open to prevent concerns about food security.

For example, on April 22, 2020, Canada submitted a statement on its own behalf and that of 22 other WTO members (including the EU and the US) which contained the following “commitments”:

“1.6. To help ensure well-functioning global agriculture and agri-food supply chains in response to this crisis we therefore are committed:

“a. To ensure that supply chains remain open and connected so that international markets can continue to function in supporting the movement of agricultural products and agriculture inputs, which plays an instrumental role in avoiding food shortages and ensuring global food security.

“b. To exercise restraint in establishing domestic food stocks of agricultural products that are traditionally exported so as to avoid disruptions or distortions in international trade.

“c. Not to impose agriculture export restrictions and refrain from implementing unjustified trade barriers on agriculture and agri-food products and key agricultural production inputs.

“d. That emergency measures related to agriculture and agri-food products designed to tackle COVID-19 must be targeted, proportionate, transparent, and temporary, and not create unnecessary barriers to trade or disruption to global supply chains for agriculture and agri-food products. Any such measures are to be consistent with WTO rules.

“e. To inform the WTO as soon as practicable of any trade related COVID-19 measures affecting agriculture and agri-food products, including providing scientific evidence in accordance with WTO agreements if necessary, to ensure transparency and predictability. Members should be given opportunities to review new measures.

“f. To ensure that updated and accurate information on levels of food production, consumption and stocks, as well as on food prices is widely available, including through existing international mechanisms.

“g. To support the efforts of the WTO and other international organizations in analysing the impacts of COVID-19 on global agriculture and agri-food trade and production.

“h. To engage in a dialogue to improve our preparedness and responsiveness to regional or international pandemics, including multilateral coordination to limit unjustified agriculture export restrictions, in particular at the WTO.”

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; EUROPEAN UNION; HONG KONG, CHINA; JAPAN; REPUBLIC OF KOREA; MALAWI; MEXICO; NEW ZEALAND; PARAGUAY; PERU; QATAR; SINGAPORE; SWITZERLAND; THE SEPARATE CUSTOMS TERRITORY OF TAIWAN, PENGHU, KINMEN AND MATSU; UKRAINE; UNITED KINGDOM; UNITED STATES; AND URUGUAY, WT/GC/208, G/AG/30 (22 April 2020)(Emphasis added).

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On May 5, 2020, Switzerland submitted a statement from 42 WTO members pledging not to impose export restraints and to refrain from unjustified trade barriers on agricultural trade.

“1.5. We also stress the necessity of maintaining agriculture supply chains and preserving Members’ food security. We, therefore, pledge to not impose export restrictions and to refrain from implementing unjustified trade barriers on agricultural and food products in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

STATEMENT ON COVID-19 AND THE MULTILATERAL TRADING SYSTEM BY MINISTERS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE WTO FROM AFGHANISTAN; AUSTRALIA; BARBADOS; BENIN; CAMBODIA; CANADA; CHILE; COLOMBIA; COSTA RICA; ECUADOR; EL SALVADOR; GUATEMALA; GUYANA; HONG KONG, CHINA; ICELAND; ISRAEL; JAMAICA; JAPAN; KENYA; REPUBLIC OF KOREA; THE STATE OF KUWAIT; LIECHTENSTEIN; MADAGASCAR; MAURITIUS; MEXICO; REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA; MONTENEGRO; NEPAL; NEW ZEALAND; NIGERIA; NORTH MACEDONIA; NORWAY; PERU; SAINT LUCIA; KINGDOM OF SAUDI ARABIA; SINGAPORE; SOLOMON ISLANDS; SWITZERLAND; UKRAINE; UNITED ARAB EMIRATES; UNITED KINGDOM AND URUGUAY, WT/GC/212 (5 May 2020).

Brazil, the EU, Malawi, Paraguay, Qatar, Taiwan and the United States were part of the April 22 statement but not the May 5 statement. The two together cover 75 WTO members (counting the 27 members of the EU).

Missing from either of these statements are important WTO Members who are also important agricultural producers — Argentina, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Russia, and Vietnam. Some of these Members have export restraints on some agricultural products in place now (e.g., Russia and Vietnam) and others imposed such restraints back in 2007-2008 (e.g., China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia).

There has also been a joint statement from the LDC countries urging the importance of keeping markets open both for medical supplies and food products. See SECURING LDCS EMERGENCY ACCESS TO ESSENTIAL MEDICAL AND FOOD PRODUCTS TO COMBAT THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC.
COMMUNICATION BY CHAD ON BEHALF OF THE LDC GROUP, WT/GC/211 (4 May 2011) . There are currently 36 LDCs who are members of the WTO. Seven of the 36 were part of the April 22 or May 5 statements (Malawi on the April 22 statement; Afghanistan, Benin, Cambodia, Madagascar, Nepal, and the Solomon Islands on the May 5 statement). Adding the 29 LDCs not already counted in the April 22 and May 5 statements, brings the total number of WTO Members advocating for maintaining open markets for agricultural trade to 104.

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There have also been statements provided by the ASEAN countries and by APEC on COVID-19 supplied to the WTO, although any commitments on trade in agricultural goods are limited. ASEAN DECLARATION AND STATEMENTS ON COVID-19, WT/GC/210 (1 May 2020); Statement on COVID-19 by APEC Ministers Responsible for Trade, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (05 May 2020), https://www.apec.org/Meeting-Papers/Sectoral-Ministerial-Meetings/Trade/2020_trade

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Conclusion

The world is better prepared to deal with a future wave of export restraints on agricultural products than it was in 2007-2008 with an improved understanding of production and supplies around the world and with notification systems and with groups tracking government actions. Fortunately, 2020 does not present a situation of acute food shortages of core products although lockdowns, stay at home orders and the collapse of air travel and reduction in ship traffic creates potential challenges for both production and distribution of food articles.

While there have been a number of countries who have imposed export restraints and others that are imposing some barriers (including increased tariffs), a major group of countries and territories involved in international trade in agriculture has committed either not to impose export restraints or to do so only under limited circumstances and only temporarily.

The temporary shortage of meat and poultry products occurring in the United States will receive a fair amount of press attention. With frozen meat supplies reportedly plentiful in the U.S. and with efforts to get temporarily closed processing plants back on line (dependent on ability of processors to improve protection for workers), hopefully concerns about U.S. and Canadian meat supplies will dissipate in the coming weeks.

It is also the case that other major meat producing countries may have significant surpluses which could alleviate shortage issues if they continue for a period of time, if policy makers are willing to work together to address the short-term needs.

So hopefully COVID-19 does not also become a food security crisis in 2020.

Update on the collapse of travel and tourism in response to COVID-19

In a post from April 30, I provided information on the importance of travel and tourism to the global economy and the sharp contraction flowing from national efforts to stem the growth in COVID-19 infections. Travel restrictions, stay at home orders and other actions have seriously limited travel and tourism in recent months and will likely continue to do so for at least several more months going forward.

A series of documents from the World Travel & Tourism Council provide an overview of the importance of the sector to various geographic areas of the world in 2019, what had been growth projections to 2030 and the projected job losses in the sector for 2020 because of the pandemic.

In 2019, some 330 million jobs were in the travel and tourism sector globally or one in ten jobs. Travel and tourism in 2019 accounted for 10.3% of the global economy with higher growth rate versus the total global economy (3.5% vs. 2.5%). The COVID-19 pandemic is projected to cost the world 100.8 million jobs in 2020, a loss of 31% from 2019. The loss in global GDP is projected at $2.7 trillion. Truly staggering projected losses from the pandemic are hitting countries and territories around the world.

EIR_Global_Economic_Impact_from_COVID_19_Infographic

The percent of total GDP and total employment in a region was highest in 2019 for the Caribbean at 13.9% and 15.2% respectively, followed by South East Asia at 12.1% and 13.3%, Oceania at 11.7% and 12.6%, North East Asia at 9.8% and 10.0%, the European Union at 9.5% and 11.2%, North America at 8.8% and 11.1%, North Africa at 8.5% and 9.3%, the Middle East at 8.6% and 8.8%, with other areas somewhat lower. International travel and tourism in 2019 was 28.7% of the total with domestic being 71.3%; 21.4% of expenditures were by business travelers with the remaining 78.6% being leisure travel and tourism. 179.7 million jobs in travel and tourism were in Asia in 2019, 37.1 million in Europe, 45.4 million in the Americas, 24.6 million in Africa and 6.7 million in the Middle East.

Projections for 2030 (before the pandemic) were for travel and tourism to capture 11.3% of global GDP and increase employment to 425 million jobs. Depending on the damage from the pandemic and the recovery time , presumably the effects through 2030 will show much smaller employment numbers and a smaller percent of GDP going to travel and tourism.

EIR2020-importance-of-travel-infographics.indd_

While travel and tourism expenditures reflect the size of the overall economy in terms of total dollars, the fastest growth is often in smaller countries, including island countries and territories.

EIR-global-infographic-2020-v2

As seen in these data from the World Travel and Tourism Council, the growth of travel and tourism as a sector in 2019 exceeded growth rates in healthcare, retail and wholesale, agriculture, construction and manufacturing while lagging just information and communications and financial services. Moreover, travel and tourism effect other sectors of the economy when expanding or when contracting. The challenges facing companies like Boeing and Airbus at a time when most commercial fleets are largely not operating would be one obvious example.

For there to be a rapid return to economic growth in many parts of the world as the COVID-19 pandemic recedes, all countries will need a return to the use of restaurants, hotels, transportation services, entertainment venues and other elements of the travel and tourism sector.

With the enormous losses being suffered by the sector and the large part of the sector populated by small- and medium-size businesses, many countries are likely to find far fewer travel and tourism businesses operating in the coming months than was true in 2019 even after reopening. Governments in various countries are working to provide financial support to workers and businesses, but it unclear how many businesses will nonetheless go out of business and how many jobs will be lost even after reopening. This is complicated by the social distancing requirements that are either recommended or required by countries who are starting to open up (or in the United States, in the states that are starting to reopen). For example, restaurants typically operate on small margins. Requirements to limit seating to half of capacity (or worse depending on density of current seating arrangements) to be able to implement social distancing recommendations in restaurants could make operating many restaurants uneconomic going forward.

Moreover, for many consumers and businesses, travel and tourism activities will likely be greatly curtailed pending development and distribution to the world’s population of an effective vaccine. This is regardless of government actions to reopen economies and flows from the understandable concern for many people about enjoying normal life when the invisible enemy has no cure. While there are substantial efforts by pharmaceutical companies and government researchers to achieve an unusually quick breakthrough, 2021 is a very optimistic timeline. Whatever the timeline actually is will determine when the travel and tourism sector is able to fully help in rebuilding economic momentum around the world.

From a trade policy perspective, governments can reduce the costs to the state and local governments and to businesses and consumers by keeping markets open, lowering duties, expediting customs clearance and working to expand production of medical goods to eliminate the gap in global supply during periods of peak demand. The latter is the only realistic answer to temporary export restraints by countries who find themselves in a situation of surging infection rates and inadequate supplies where they are significant domestic producers. Moreover, with a second wave of the pandemic possible in the fall/winter, a global ramp up of capacity and production of needed supplies and creation of regional inventories is a need if the world is to avoid further trade disruptions from the pandemic coming back later this year.

Other actions by governments such as stimulus programs and safety net projects, reinforcing healthcare infrastructure, ramping up testing, tracing and quarantining, and addressing the financial needs of developing and least developed countries are all being pursued to some extent by international organizations and by individual countries, though the stress on the global economy complicates the extent of some of these efforts going forward.

Conclusion

The pandemic is projected to result in the loss of more than 100 million jobs in the travel and tourism sector in 2020 – a staggering situation and certainly among the most difficult of the global challenges to economies from COVID-19. The reality will be that travel and tourism will trail other parts of the global economy in rebounding as economies are reopened absent an effective vaccine which in all likelihood is a year or more (at a minimum) away. Governments and international organizations need to focus on steps which can reduce the challenges for the sector in the coming months. The UN World Tourism Organization has prepared a series of recommendation that were reviewed in my earlier post. They are a good starting point.

Food security – how will COVID-19 infections at meat processing plants affect?

COVID-19 is a health pandemic. However, because of the various restrictions placed on movement of people within countries and internationally, there have been concerns that there could be disruptions in food supplies and the possibility of a food crisis. With travel curtailed and many restaurants closed, there has been a sudden shift in demand patterns as demand in food service (restaurants, caterers) has largely dried up and demand in grocery stores has sharply increased. This has led to problems in processing and distribution and a sharp contraction in the demand for some food products where demand was concentrated in food service.

The concerns about a possible food crisis have been amplified by the actions of some countries or territories to impose export restrictions on certain agricultural products and the actions of some other countries to increase tariffs on certain imported agricultural products to protect domestic producers amidst falling food prices. The concerns arise during a period (2020) when there is ample food production globally, and hence a food crisis should be avoidable.

For the WTO, FAO and most governments, the actions of dozens of countries in 2007-2008 who imposed export restraints on certain food products remain fresh of mind. The vast majority of trade restrictions then were on rice and wheat, two staples for populations around the world. The introduction of export restraints by one or more countries led to similar actions by others. The result was serious shortages of products for import dependent countries and highly volatile prices which affected most countries.

In an earlier post I reviewed actions taken by the G20 agriculture ministers and a group of WTO Members to pledge to work to keep markets open for food products during the COVID-19 pandemic. Deputy Director-General Alan Wolff provided a virtual statement yesterday looking at food security and the increased reliance on international trade in food for many WTO Members. Similarly, different groups monitor countries who are imposing export restraints on food. See DDG Wolff, “Reliance on international trade for food security likely to grow,” https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/ddgaw_30apr20_e.htm; https://public.tableau.com/profile/laborde6680#!/vizhome/ExportRestrictionsTracker/FoodExportRestrictionsTracker?publish=yes.

Today’s post looks at the challenges being experienced in North America, Europe and globally from the high level of infections of COVID-19 at meat and poultry processing plants. These infections have resulted in thousands of workers testing positive, many being very ill, some dying and many plants closing for some period of time to achieve a safer working environment. In the U.S. and Canada, a large number of facilities that handle a significant part of total U.S. and Canadian production have been affected. Workers are understandably concerned about returning to work when the facilities reopen despite an Executive Order by President Trump invoking the Defense Production Act to mandate the continued functioning of the meat and poultry processing facilities. See https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/president-donald-j-trump-taking-action-ensure-safety-nations-food-supply-chain/;https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/executive-order-delegating-authority-dpa-respect-food-supply-chain-resources-national-emergency-caused-outbreak-covid-19/

But the consequences of the large number of infections in meat and poultry processing plants have been a reduction in operating capacity, reduced supply to domestic markets, possible reductions in export supplies and massive waste of cattle, pigs and chickens which are being killed and not processed because of the challenges and with downward prices to farmers and ranchers.

While it is not known if the problem will be very short term, a sudden reduction in capacity or production can lead to imbalances in the supply/demand ratio which could result in higher prices, reduced supplies and possible actions to satisfy domestic demand needs, including export restraints.

Because to date there has been no evidence that COVID-19 is transmitted from food or food packaging, there should not be any reason for food embargoes of meat and poultry imported from countries where facilities have closed temporarily due to COVID-19 worker infections. See https://www.who.int/images/default-source/health-topics/coronavirus/eng-mythbusting-ncov-(19).tmb-1920v.png; https://www.fda.gov/food/food-safety-during-emergencies/food-safety-and-coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19; https://ec.europa.eu/food/sites/food/files/safety/docs/biosafety_crisis_covid19_qandas_en.pdf

Problems in meat processing plants in the U.S. and Canada

There have been a host of articles in the press in recent weeks in both the U.S. and Canada reviewing the huge number of plants that have had COVID-19 confirmed cases. As many as 30 plants in the U.S. and Canada are involved with more than 3,000 workers testing positive. More than 70% of beef processing in Canada has been affected and some 25% in the United States. See, e.g., https://time.com/5830178/meat-shortages-coronavirus/; https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/coronavirus/these-are-the-meat-plants-in-canada-affected-by-the-coronavirus-outbreak-1.4916957; https://globalnews.ca/news/6857867/alberta-covid-19-meat-processing-beef-production/; https://nevalleynews.org/13141/news/meat-processing-plants-close-in-u-s-and-canada-as-covid-19-spreads-through-work-force/.

Not surprisingly, the eruption of COVID-19 cases in processing plants and the resulting need to close facilities at least temporarily has led to concern about worker safety as well as the economic effects of a sudden reduction in meat supplies. The Center for Disease Control issued guidelines for meat processing plants to permit improved safety for workers. See CDC, Guidance for Meat and Poultry Workers and Employers, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/organizations/meat-poultry-processing-workers-employers.html. The guidance is embedded below.

Guidance-for-Meat-and-Poultry-Processing-Workers-and-Employers-_-CDC

It has also led to reductions in production of processed meats and poultry and the wasting of cattle, pigs and chickens unable to be processed in recent weeks. USDA reports on beef and pork in the last week show sharp contractions in production. For beef, the USDA data show collapsing production and falling prices for cattle and rising prices for beef.

4-27-2020-USDA-data-on-beef

For pork, hog slaughter which had been up significantly through March has seen sharp declines in April with prices for pork products falling til April and then increasing rapidly.

4-30-pork-production-USDA

For poultry, USDA data through April 24, show relatively steady production volumes although press reports have reviewed millions of chickens being killed because of lack of access to processing facilities.

4-24-2020-USDA-poultry-data

Challenges in Canada would be similar or greater since a larger part of their beef processing facilities has been affected.

Meat Production Outside of the U.S. and Canada

An article by IHS Markit from March 31, 2020, reviews challenges of COVID-19 in meat processing facilities around the world as well as other challenges flowing from COVID-19 (shift in mix as restaurants shut down; export challenges with transportation limitations). “Meat industry on a knife-edge as COVID-19 disruption deepens,” https://ihsmarkit.com/research-analysis/analysis-meat-industry-covid19-disruption.html. The challenges differ in terms of pressures on meat supplies and prices as transportation problems would reduce the ability to export and thus reduce prices in exporting countries while presumably increasing prices in importing countries. By contrast, plant closures and/or reduced operating levels will reduce supply and hence increase prices of meat products in the producing country and in any export markets. There are reported issues in the EU, in Australia and potentially in Brazil.

The last forecast from USDA on U.S. exports of meats and poultry continues to show generally growing U.S. exports around the world, but the report predates some of the COVID-19 outbreaks in meat processing plants in the U.S. and the resulting concerns from communities and workers. https://apps.fas.usda.gov/psdonline/circulars/livestock_poultry.pdf

Conclusion

It is likely that over the next several months, there will be a temporary shortage of meat and poultry products in at least several important consuming and producing nations. Reduced supplies could lead to reduced exports and concerns about food security in importing countries. Reduced supplies could also lead to higher prices and internal political pressure to increase domestic availability. One such approach to increase supplies for domestic consumption for exporting countries is to restrict exports.

Fortunately, most of the major producing nations of beef and pork and at least some of the major poultry producing nations are parties to the joint statement to the WTO of April 22 2020 indicating their commitment to keeping trade flows open for agricultural products. Many are also part of the G20 and hence similarly supporting the need to keep agricultural trade open. See my prior post on the G20 agriculture ministers and the statement of Members to the WTO, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/04/23/food-security-complications-from-covid-19-recent-un-information-and-g20-and-wto-member-statements/.

In the United States, the Executive Order of President Trump can send a signal to meat and poultry processors to work to keep facilities open, but the Executive Order can’t force workers to return to working environments which workers see as unsafe. The CDC’s guidance to workers and employers should be helpful but both increase costs for employers and likely reduce productivity of facilities. The increased costs are necessary for worker safety as may be reduced productivity. Both, however, will likely result in higher prices to consumers and lower prices to farmers and ranchers.

The bigger question will be whether more countries who currently don’t have export restraints on food products introduce such restraints on non-meat and poultry products from fear of spreading food security issues.

Hopefully, the world will not find itself with dual pandemics – COVID-19 and food security. Stay tuned.

The collapse of tourism during the COVID-19 pandemic

As any of us knows all too well, the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting government efforts to control the spread of the virus has led to sharp reductions in the use of various services, including restaurants, hotels, entertainment venues and travel. This has been true domestically in many countries and has been even more obvious when one looks at international travel and tourism.

In a news release from the UN World Tourism Organization (“UNWTO”) on 28 April 2020, the toll on global tourism is reviewed, and the facts are shocking. See https://webunwto.s3.eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/2020-04/200428%20-%20Travel%20Restrictions%20EN.pdf. The news release is copied below and is followed by the full report (embedded).

“100% OF GLOBAL DESTINATIONS NOW HAVE COVID-19 TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS, UNWTO REPORTS

Madrid, Spain, 28 April 2020 – The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted all destinations worldwide to introduce restrictions on travel, research by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has found. This represents the most severe restriction on international travel in history and no country has so far lifted restrictions introduced in response to the crisis.

“Following up on previous research, the latest data from the United Nations specialized agency for tourism shows that 100% of destinations now have restrictions in place, of these, 83% have had COVID-19-related restrictions in place already for four or more weeks and, as of 20 April, so far no destination has lifted them.

“UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said: ‘Tourism has shown its commitment to putting people first. Our sector can also lead the way in driving recovery. This research on global travel restrictions will help support the timely and responsible implementation of exit strategies, allowing destinations to ease or lift travel restrictions when it is safe to do so. This way, the social and economic benefits that tourism offers can return, providing a path to sustainable recovery for both individuals and whole countries.’

Tracking Restrictions by Time and Severity

“As well as a general overview, the UNWTO research breaks down the type of travel restrictions that have been introduced by destinations in all of the global regions, while also plotting the evolution of these restrictions since 30 January – when the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. The latest analysis shows that, of 217 destinations worldwide:

“• 45% have totally or partially closed their borders for tourists – ‘Passengers are not allowed to enter’

“• 30% have suspended totally or partially international flights – ‘all flights are suspended’

“• 18% are banning the entry for passengers from specific countries of origin or passengers who have transited through specific destinations

“• 7% are applying different measures, such as quarantine or self-isolation for 14 days and visa measures.

“Against this backdrop, UNWTO has been leading calls for governments worldwide to commit to supporting tourism through this unprecedented challenge. According to Secretary-General Pololikashvili, the sudden and unexpected fall in tourism demand caused by COVID-19 places millions of jobs and livelihoods at risk while at the same time jeopardising the advances made in sustainable development and equality over recent years.” (emphasis and italics in the original)

TravelRestrictions-28-April

UNWTO data show roughly 1.5 billion arrivals of travelers around the world in 2019 following a long-term growth record in arrivals, accounting for 10% of global jobs and $1.5 trillion of international tourism receipts. See https://www.unwto.org/healing-solutions-tourism-challenge. The UNWTO in late March projected a decline in international tourism receipts for 2020 of 20-30% from 2019 (or $300-450 billion). See https://webunwto.s3.eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/2020-03/200327%20-%20COVID-19%20Impact%20Assessment%20EN.pdf. The situation is likely more precarious as we enter May with the continued global economic harm flowing from government actions to address the continued strong expansion of number of confirmed cases worldwide and deaths. As noted, every government with international tourism has introduced and continues to maintain travel restrictions. Stay at home orders have closed restaurants (other than take out or delivery), hotels, entertainment venues and more.

While all countries and territories are adversely affected by the toll on international tourism from the pandemic, the harm is greater to island nations and poorer countries where tourism is a high percentage of total GDP. Even for advanced countries, the importance of tourism can be critical to a functioning economy. In the EU, a recent article indicates that 10% of GDP is from tourism with some countries (Greece and Malta) having much higher percentages (20-25%). See https://www.dw.com/en/when-and-how-post-coronavirus-travel-in-the-eu-is-up-in-the-air/a-53273416

Commitments for tourism and travel services under the World Trade Organization

Many World Trade Organization Members have undertaken tourism and travel-related service commitments. As noted on the WTO webpage on Tourism and travel-related services, https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/serv_e/tourism_e/tourism_e.htm, more than 125 WTO members have made services commitments in the tourism area (hotels, restaurants (including catering), travel agencies, tour operator services tourist guide services, etc.). A note from the WTO Secretariat in 2009 provides information on commitments undertaken by Member (at that time, more countries have joined the WTO in the decade since the note) as well as providing other information on travelers by country and receipts. See S/C/W/298 (8 June 2009) embedded below.

SCW298

But, as with trade in goods, trade in services has general exceptions which permit Members to adopt or enforce measures “necessary to protect human, animal or plant life or health” as long as such measures “are not applied in a manner which would constitute a means of arbitrary or unjustifiable discrimination between countries where like conditions prevail, or a disguised restriction on trade in services”. GATS Article XIV(b). Measures adopted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic restricting travel (and resulting effects on other services) have not been challenged at the WTO and would be likely found permissible even if challenged.

Many of the actions governments are taking to keep supplies of medical goods and food moving are only tangentially relevant to tourism in the broad sense, though of assistance to those needing to travel or moving goods. Removal of restrictions will likely occur over time and tourism’s return will also depend on confidence of consumers in the safety of travel, of dining out, of staying in hotels and of attending entertainment events. That confidence is likely going to flow primarily from the adequacy of testing, tracking and quarantining of those found to be infected, and ultimately with the development and widespread availability of a vaccine.

UNWTO recommendations for actions to address the pandemic and accelerate recovery

In a publication released on April 1, 2020, the UNWTO identifies 23 actions they seek governments to embrace broken into three topics:

1, “Managing the crisis and mitigating the impact” (1-7);

2. “Providing stimulus and accelerating recovery” (8-16)’

3. “Preparing for tomorrow” (17-23).

The 23 action recommendations are listed below. The full UNWTO document is embedded after that. As the list of action recommendations reveals, some of the action recommendations are included in actions already taken by major countries including China, the EU and its members, the United States and others. Actions reviewed in earlier posts by the IMF and others may permit some of these action recommendations to be implemented by some of the developing and least developed countries. Many of the recommendations will likely not be addressable in the near term but may encourage collective activity post pandemic.

“1. Incentivize job retention, sustain the self-employed and
protect the most vulnerable groups

“2. Support companies’ liquidity

“3. Review taxes, charges, levies and regulations impacting
transport and tourism

“4. Ensure consumer protection and confidence

“5. Promote skills development, especially digital skills

“6. Include tourism in national, regional and global economic
emergency packages

“7. Create crisis management mechanisms and strategies

“8. Provide financial stimulus for tourism investment and
operations

“9. Review taxes, charges and regulations impacting travel and
tourism

“10. Advance travel facilitation

“11. Promote new jobs and skills development, particularly
digital ones

“12. Mainstream environmental sustainability in stimulus and
recovery packages

“13. Understand the market and act quickly to restore
confidence and stimulate demand

“14. Boost marketing, events and meetings

“15. Invest in partnerships

“16. Mainstream tourism in national, regional and international
recovery programmes and in Development Assistance

“17. Diversify markets, products and services

“18. Invest in market intelligence systems and digital
transformation

“19. Reinforce tourism governance at all levels

“20. Prepare for crisis, build resilience and ensure tourism is
part of national emergency mechanism and systems

“21. Invest in human capital and talent development

“22. Place sustainable tourism firmly on the national agenda

“23. Transition to the circular economy and embrace the SDGs.” (Sustainable Development Goals).

COVID19_Recommendations_English_1

Conclusion

As the world is exploring ways to reopen individual economies as the worst of COVID-19 (at least phase 1) passes, governments will be under enormous pressure to reopen as quickly as is responsible to do. As data from the UNWTO demonstrate, travel and tourism is a labor intensive sector which has outgrown overall economic growth in the last decade and which can help facilitate recovery when economies are able to reopen.

There are huge challenges in the short- and medium-term for the sector including the depth of the decline, the fragility of many of the businesses financially and the challenges to restoration of consumer confidence. With the United States alone having recorded nearly 30 million people filing for unemployment over the last six weeks, the size of the economic challenge globally is obviously massive. The UNWTO recommended actions address an array of certain needs for many players. For those businesses that survive the pandemic, restoring consumer confidence and having governments withdraw restrictions safely will become the biggest challenges to forward movement. Government actions during the pandemic to provide safety nets for businesses and workers will influence how many businesses and jobs remain when markets do reopen.