G20 Trade and Investment Ministers

G20 Trade and Investment Ministerial Meeting Communique, 22 September 2020

In an earlier post today, I reviewed, inter alia, a statement made by Deputy Director-General Alan Wm Wolff to the G20 trade and investment ministers virtual meeting on the topic of WTO reform and the need for G20 engagement.

The G20 Trade and Investment Ministerial Meeting Communique is now available and is embedded below.


One of five agreed areas of cooperation and coordination by the G20 ministers was on supporting “the necessary reform of the World Trade Orgaization (WTO) t which the Riyadh Initiative on the Future of the WTO provides political support”. Other areas of cooperation and coordination include supporting recovery of international trade and investment from the fallout from COVID-19; encouraging “greater international competitiveness of Micro-, Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (MSMEs); fostering “economic diversification”; and strengthening “international investment”. Page 1, para. 3.

This post focuses on the second area of cooperation and coordination, reform of the WTO. The Communique contains an articulation of G20 agreement in paragraphs 13-22 and provides in Annex 1 the Chair of the Trade and Investment Working Group’s (TIWG) “Summary of the Exchange of Views under the Riyadh Initiative on the Future of the WTO”. The Annex was prepared under the Chair’s “own responsibility and is without prejudice to the positions of individual members.” Page 3, para 14.

“15. We reaffirm our commitment to the objectives and principles enshrined in the Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the WTO.

“16. We recognize that the effectiveness of the multilateral trading system depends on the implementation of WTO rules by all Members, as well as their respective enforcement, in order to maintain the balance of Members’ rights and obligations.

“17. We remain committed to working actively and constructively with other WTO Members to undertake the necessary reform of the WTO. We recognize that this reform should improve the functions of the WTO and we encourage a constructive discussion of all proposals in this regard.

“18. We recognize transparency as an important condition for enhancing trade predictability and fostering trust between WTO members with regards to the compliance with their WTO obligations. In this regard, we reaffirm our commitment to fulfill our WTO transparency obligations and to lead by example and we call on all other WTO Members to do so. We recognize the need for assistance to WTO Members that face capacity constraints in meeting their notification obligations. We acknowledge ongoing discussions to enhance transparency and bolster compliance with notification obligations at the WTO.

“19. We underscore the significance of ongoing WTO negotiations and reiterate our support to achieve an agreement by 2020 on comprehensive and effective disciplines on fisheries subsidies, as WTO Ministers decided at the 11th Ministerial Conference. Many members affirm the need to strengthen international rules on industrial subsidies and welcome ongoing international efforts to improve trade rules affecting agriculture. Many of us highlighted agricultural subsidies and agricultural market access. We also stress that urgent action is necessary regarding the functioning of the dispute settlement system in order to contribute to predictability and security in the multilateral trading system.

“20. We note the ongoing discussions under the Joint Statement Initiatives (JSI) at the WTO, including the JSI on E-Commerce, Investment Facilitation for Development, MSMEs, and Services Domestic Regulation. G20 participants in these initiatives call for significant progress in the lead up to the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference. We note that concerns have been expressed on rule-making by some G20 members who are not part of the JSIs.

“21. We note the process under-way to select the next Director General of the WTO. We look forward to working with all WTO Members towards concluding the selection process by the 7th of November 2020.

“22. The 12th WTO Ministerial Conference represents an important milestone in an inclusive and ambitious process of WTO reform. We will use the additional time available until then to bolster our efforts to work constructively with other WTO Members to achieve meaningful progress in advancing our shared interests, including emerging stronger from theCOVID-19 pandemic and progressing with the necessary reform of the WTO to improve its functioning.” [Emphasis added]

While the G20 Communique lays out a number of areas of potential cooperation on WTO reform — fisheries subsidies, joint statement initiatives, transparency — there are other issues where language is qualified (e.g., industrial subsidies, rules on agriculture, agricultural subsidies, and concern re new rules established through plurilaterals). Thus, the known tensions between major G20 members are reflected in the joint Communique.

Similarly, the Annex 1 on the Riyadh Initiative on the Future of the WTO, TIWG Chair’s Summary, pages 8-13 contains sections on “Common Objectives,” “Foundational Principles,” “Collective Vision to Advance the Necessary WTO Reform,” and “Conclusion”. The Annex demonstrates the continued division within the G20 on many aspects of WTO reform. Consider the section on Foundational Principles:


“With respect to the principles that underpin the WTO, the Chair notes that G20 members’ responses referred to the foundational principles embodied in the Marrakesh Agreement and included in the covered agreements, with most members noting that some of these foundational principles are also reflected in the Marrakesh Declaration.

“The Chair notes the following outcomes of the exchange of views on foundational principles:

“• All members agreed to list the following as part of the principles of the WTO:

“o Rule of law

“o Transparency

“o Non-discrimination

“o Inclusiveness

“o Fair competition

“o Market openness

“o Resistance to protectionism

“o Reciprocal and mutually advantageous arrangements, acknowledging that agreements provide for differential and more favorable treatment for developing economies, including special attention to the particular situation of least developed countries

“• Most members stressed that ‘sustainability’ is a principle of the WTO

“• Most members stressed that ‘market-oriented policies’ is a principle of the WTO.

“• Some members stressed that ‘special and differential treatment’ is a principle that is integral to and underpins the WTO and that should be preserved. Many members, highlighting that WTO rules contribute to economic growth and development, expressed the view that S&DT is a tool to facilitate the achievement of WTO objectives and should be applied on the basis of demonstrable needs.

“• Members noted the practice of consensus-based decision making in the WTO, expressly carried over from the GATT in the Marrakesh Agreement. Some members consider this practice to be a principle of the WTO.” Pages 11-12 [Emphasis added].

The qualifications included reflect deep divisions on some issues. For example on whether “market-oriented policies” is a principle of the WTO, China strongly opposes the concept and views discussion of the matter as outside of the WTO’s mandate.

The same presence of divergent views is seen in the Conclusion:


“The Saudi G20 Presidency extends its appreciation to all TIWG representatives for their feedback and engagement in the Riyadh Initiative. The Presidency notes the following outcomes of the Riyadh Initiative:

“• G20 support for the objectives enshrined in the Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the WTO, with most members noting that some of these objectives are also reflected in the Marrakesh Declaration.

“• Affirmation of foundational principles of the multilateral trading system with different views being expressed on various issues.

“• Determination to tackle the necessary reform of the functions of the WTO and to discuss all proposals in this regard.

“• The need for Members to fulfill their notification obligations as a necessary condition for Members to effectively monitor compliance with existing rules.

“• Recognition by most members of the value of pursuing plurilateral negotiations on issues where progress can be achieved and emphasis by some members that new rules be adopted by consensus.

“• Shared sense that the dispute settlement system needs urgent reform, with divergent views on the nature of such reforms.

“The Saudi G20 Presidency sincerely hopes that the Riyadh Initiative will help advance the shared interest of WTO Members in bringing about the necessary reform of the WTO, so it can fulfill its objectives of improving the lives of the world’s citizens and ensuring peaceful, inclusive and sustainable economic development through multilateral cooperation.” Page 13 [Emphasis added].

It is obviously a positive development that the G20 trade and investment ministers have been meeting during the COVID-19 pandemic and working together on various issues including keeping markets open, supporting investment (and more) and that the G20 countries are supportive of WTO reform. So today’s Communique is an important positive for many reasons including for the effort to get some focus on WTO reform at the WTO. However, the deep divisions among even the G20 countries show that the road for reform at the WTO will be long and complicated.

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.”


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.


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.



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.