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COVID-19 — the United States continues to spin out of control, with increasing shortages of medical goods; sharp increases in developing countries in the Americas and parts of Asia

The last two weeks have seen the case count of new COVID-19 cases in the United States surge out of control across much of the country with a staggering number of new cases reaching 871,922 cases between July 6 and July 19, up from 584,423 cases in the prior two-week period — an increase in new cases of 287,499 or 49.2% in just two weeks. The U.S. accounted for more than half of the global spike in new cases from the last two week period examined (June 22-July 5) from less than 2.5 million new cases for the world to 3,018,993 through July 19. Growth in new cases is occurring in many developing countries as well, but no developed country other than the United States has been unable to cap the level of new cases and, in most instances, bring the number down sharply over time (Russia’s number of new cases has declined but not sharply like other developed countries).

The consequences for the U.S. and the world of the continued rapid growth in new cases are significant. The U.S. is finding many states needing to slow down or reverse the reopening of the economy which will hurt the economic recovery in the United States, result in a continuation of exceptionally high unemployment, threaten hundreds of thousands of businesses with survival, put in jeopardy the ability of schools at all levels to open safely and put downward pressure on global trade based on reduced U.S. demand, restrictions on various major service sectors and production of goods at below optimal levels. Moreover, there are many states facing sharp increases in hospitalizations putting stress on the health care system in many parts of the country and returning states and local communities to scramble for medical goods, including personal protective equipment. There are news articles of some hospital systems facing the same types of shortages that were harming care in the March-April period. Congress is facing the need in the coming days and weeks to provide substantial additional support to the unemployed, to health care systems, to state and local governments, to certain sectors of the economy particularly hard hit. Thus, the U.S. drag on the global economy will likely continue while the U.S. will be chasing medical supplies at a time of growing demand in the developing world, likely making access to many medical goods more expensive and harder to find.

While the Administration has focused on reopening the U.S. economy regardless of the actual situation and has dismissed the increase in new cases as simply the result of increased testing and has claimed that the U.S. has the lowest mortality rate, the facts on the ground indicate the crisis will continue for some time. The United States has just 4.3% of the world’s population but has had 26% of the world’s cases and 23.3% of the world’s deaths from COVID-19. So the bottom line is that the U.S. has a massive and growing health crisis that is far from being under control.

On the question of the death rate and how the U.S. compares to other countries, the table below presents some data which are self-explanatory. Using the daily data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, I reviewed 42 countries and territories who collectively have accounted for 90.88% of all cases since December 31 and 91.93% of all deaths recorded as due to COVID-19. Through July 19, the U.S. had the sixth highest mortality rate looking at deaths per hundred thousand population (France, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom and Chile had worse rates ). If one looks at the period since April 11 (three months and eight days, roughly half of the total period), the U.S. had the forth worst mortality rate (deaths per hundred thousand population; Peru, the United Kingdom, and Chile had worse rates). The U.S. death rate is worse than our neighbors, Canada and Mexico. It is worse than that of most European countries, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan. And much worse than China, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, South Africa and many other countries. The U. S. rate of deaths/cases has remained unchanged at 3.78% over the total period and for the period since April 11th. It has been in the more recent period that U.S. testing has expanded significantly, but without any change in rate of death.

While the U.S. ranking of deaths as a percent of total confirmed cases of COVID-19 is better than its ranking based on the number of deaths per 100,000 population, the death rate/100,000 provides the best measure of the relative cost in deaths to each country/territory. Thus, the U.S. death rate is 3.9 times higher than the rate in Germany, 1.8 times the rate in Canada, 54.5 times the rate in Japan, 5 times the rate in Russia, 73.4 times the rate in South Korea, 133.1 times the rate in China, 1419.3 times the rate in Taiwan and 4.5 times the rate of the total of the 42 countries/territories (including the U.S.).

Countrydeaths/100,000 pop.
Dec. 31 – July 19
deaths/100,000 pop.
Aprill 11 – July 19
United Kingdom67.9354.49
Spain60.5526.80
Italy58.0626.82
France44.9925.30
Chile44.0443.70
United States42.5836.87
Peru39.9839.46
Brazil37.3236.82
Mexico30.4830.30
Ecuador30.4028.69
Panama25.2225.08
Canada23.6322.11
Bolivia18.2918.12
Iran16.8611.76
Colombia12.9412.79
Germany10.947.88
Kuwait9.679.65
Iraq9.399.21
Honduras9.148.90
Dominican Republic9.047.87
Russia8.468.40
South Africa8.458.41
Guatemala8.248.22
Saudi Arabia7.187.00
Turkey6.685.45
Oman6.196.13
Qatar5.445.23
Argentina4.924.74
Egypt4.234.10
United Arab Emirates3.463.30
Afghanistan3.063.02
Pakistan2.582.55
India1.961.95
Philippines1.641.45
Bangladesh1.581.57
Indonesia1.481.37
Japan0.780.71
South Korea0.580.17
Singapore0.470.36
Nigeria0.390.38
China0.320.08
Taiwan0.030.01
Total of 42 countries9.517.95

Growth in new cases among developing countries

With the world total confirmed cases of COVID-19 standing at 14.267 million on Sunday, July 19, there were large numbers of new cases over the last two weeks from a large number of countries. Brazil had another 497,856 cases; India had 404,453 new cases; South Africa an additional 162,902 cases; Russia 97,031 new cases; Mexico an additional 86748 cases; Colombia an additional 77,311 cases; Peru 50,420 new cases; Argentina 46,515 new cases; Saudi Arabia an additional 42,487 cases; Bangladesh 42,387 new cases; ten countries each had between 20,000 and 40,000 new cases (Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Kazakhstan, Oman, Pakistan, Philippines, Bolivia, Chile); seven countries had between 10,000 and 19,999 new cases (Panama, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey, Guatemala, Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Egypt) with all other countries/territories having less that 10,000 new cases each.

Of the forty-two countries/territories that account for more than 90% of cases and deaths, besides the U.S., there were fourteen where the last two weeks were new highs for the country/territory, that is where the virus is continuing to expand: India, Mexico, South Africa, Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Panama, Indonesia, Iraq, Oman and the Philippines.

In the last two weeks, the forty-two countries listed in the table above increased their rate of new cases by 22.66%. All other countries increased by 17.46% while the total for all countries increased by 22.22%.

So just as was true in prior posts on the COVID-19 pandemic, the pandemic continues to grow rapidly and is affecting an increasing number of developing and least developed countries. This puts increased pressure on the global supply of medical goods including personal protective equipment. As noted in previous posts and as reviewed on the WTO website, many countries have introduced export restraints particularly for medical goods, but also for some agricultural products. Many have also introduced liberalizing measures to reduce the cost of imports of needed medical goods and to streamline the importing process for such goods.

Vaccines and therapeutics – developments and challenges for access

As reviewed in a prior post, “There have been extraordinary efforts to ramp up research and development around the world to address COVID-19. Through the WHO and other efforts, there have been greater efforts at coordination of R&D and at the identification of gaps in knowledge and research. Large sums are being committed by some countries and NGOs to help ensure that all countries will have access to vaccines and therapeutics that get developed and that such access will be at affordable prices.” July 5, 2020, COVID-19 – the sharp expansion of new cases will put increased pressure on finding vaccines and therapeutics and complicate global economic recovery, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/07/05/covid-19-the-sharp-expansion-of-new-cases-will-put-increased-pressure-on-finding-vaccines-and-therapeutics-and-complicate-global-economic-recovery/.

A number of vaccines are moving into the stage 3 testing of large numbers of humans in the coming weeks/months. There is hope that one or more products in tests will result in vaccines that get approved for distribution by the end of the year or early in 2021. This week’s Bloomberg Businessweek has a cover article on the University of Oxford COVID-19 vaccine that, if approved, will be distributed by AstraZeneca who has arranged global manufacturing of what could be more than two billion doses. See July 20, 2020, Bloomberg Businessweek, The Front-Runner, pages 42-47. While the University of Oxford has led in the development and testing of the hoped-for vaccine, AstraZeneca has made arrangements with a number of companies around the world to produce the vaccine if approved and has agreements with the United Kingdome for 100 million doses, with the U.S. for 300 million doses and an arrangement with an Indian company to produce 1 billion doses for developing and middle income countries. Id at 46. There are other developmental vaccines that are also making progress through testing stages though their timing for eventual approval (if found efficacious) may be a few months behind the University of Oxford program. The good news, if vaccines get developed quickly which are efficacious, is that the major producers in the west are putting in place plans to provide global production which should go a long way to ensuring equitable access for all at affordable prices. Hopefuly, the University of Oxford/AstraZeneca model will be followed by all. China also has vaccines in test mode, although it is less clear what their approach would be to production and distribution if products are approved.

While the world has seen a very large collective scientific effort to find vaccines and therapeutics, in the last week there have also been claims by three governments (the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States) of cybersecurity attacks from Russia on COVID-19 research programs. See, e.g., CNN, UK, US and Canada alleged Russian cyberattacks on COVID-19 research centers, July 17, 2020, https://www.cnn.com/2020/07/16/politics/russia-cyberattack-covid-vaccine-research/index.html. The link to the UK advisory is here. https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/news/advisory-apt29-targets-covid-19-vaccine-development.

Conclusion

Nearly seven months into the pandemic, the continued growth in the number of new COVID-19 cases is continuing to put pressure on health care systems in many parts of the world and dampen prospects for the global economy’s rapid recovery.

The United States has been unable to get the pandemic under control within its borders and has been leading the growth in new cases. The rapid rate of growth of new cases across much of the United States has led to backtracking by many U.S. states on opening measures taken in the last two months. With the growing challenges in the United States, the U.S. will be a drag on global economic recovery.

While there is more global production of many of the medical goods needed to address COVID-19 ahead of the development of vaccines and therapeutics, the enormous growth in the number of cases and the continued spread in developing and least developing countries along with the United States will continue to test the balance between demand and supply. While the WTO is monitoring developments on export restraints and liberalization measures based on country notifications, large numbers of export restraints on medical goods continue and will likely remain in place for months to come complicating the ability to maximize utilization of scarce supplies.

It has been known that the ultimate return to normal conditions for the world would have to await the development and distribution of vaccines and therapeutics that are efficacious to all peoples on an equitable and affordable basis. But the new “normal” of living with COVID-19 while we await vaccine developments is being frustrated in some countries, like the United States, by an inability to communicate the challenges with a single voice, by the politicizing of basic disease prevention steps like mask wearing and social distancing, by the failure to ramp up testing and tracing sufficiently based on the level of COVID-19 spread and by the lack of support from the body politic (which flows both from the lack of a single message from federal, state and local leaders and from lockdown fatigue). Thus, for the United States and perhaps others, we are seemingly unable to slow the spread through steps many other countries have adopted and that have been known by medical experts for decades if not centuries.

Fortunately, there is positive news coming from the research and development efforts of many companies, universities and research institutes. Let us hope that vaccines and cures are found quickly. The drag on the global economy and the enormous toll on populations will likely continue until then.

COVID-19 — the sharp expansion of new cases will put increased pressure on finding vaccines and therapeutics and complicate global economic recovery

The last two weeks have seen an extraordinary explosion of new cases of COVID-19 in the United States, the rest of the Americas, and in many developing and least developed countries in Asia and Africa. Total infections globally now exceed 11.2 million up close to 2.5 million in the last two weeks (from 8.767 million) and up close to 100% from the two week period ending May 24. All figures are taken from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control daily reports.

The top five countries in the world with most cases account for 53.94% of global cases through July 5 and are:

United States 2,839, 542

Brazil 1,577,004

Russia 674,515

India 673,165

Peru 299,080

Three of these countries (the United States, Brazil and India) have not yet reached a peak and had the three largest number of new cases in the last two weeks — 584,423 for the U.S.; 509,425 for Brazil; 262,704 for India. While Russia and Peru appear to have peaked (last two weeks are 28.89% and 37.18% below their respective peak periods), the number of new cases in the last two weeks was the fourth and eight largest of any country (97,563 for Russia; 47,742 for Peru). The top five countries for cases to date also accounted for 60.81% of new cases during the last two weeks.

The U.S. which had seemingly peaked in the two weeks end April 26 at 409,102 and seen declines to 297,391 for the two weeks ending June 7, has seen a resurgence since then (335,058 for two weeks ending June 21) with a staggering growth in the last two weeks to 584,423 new cases. Thus, the U.S. has seen a dramatic growth in cases — up 96.52% from the June 7th two weeks; up 74.42% from the prior two weeks ending June 21; and up 42.86% since the prior peak for the two weeks ending April 26.

The United States has been in the process of opening up over the last two months after lockdowns in most states and has seen dramatic growth in cases in large parts of the country (south, southwest, west coast), with some substantial contraction in areas hardest hit back in March and April (Middle Atlantic states including New York and New Jersey). While other countries that have been opening up have had some resurgence as well (e.g., France, Germany, South Korea, Japan), the growth has been from very low numbers and has typically been relatively small absolute increases.

The United States is the only developed country to be having the challenges it is having getting the COVID-19 pandemic under control. Indeed, no other developed country has not peaked in the number of new cases. All other developed countries have generally seen very large decreases in the number of new cases from their peaks back in March or April. Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the U.S., has warned that the United States could reach infection rates of 100,000 cases per day without increased adherence to the straightforward but challenging control criteria of social distancing, wearing masks, handwashing, testing, tracing and isolation.

With mixed messages from government leaders at the federal, state and local levels, with COVID-19 fatigue among many U.S. residents, and with lower rates of infection and generally less severe infections for younger people (leading many to be less concerned about the pandemic), the path forward in the U.S. is unclear particularly prior to the development of effective vaccines and therapeutics.

So large are the increases in new cases from the U.S., Brazil and India in the last two weeks that the U.S. and Brazil’s two week totals exceed the total cases since December 31 for all other countries except Russia and India; India’s new cases over the last two weeks exceed every country’s total number of COVID-19 cases since December 31 except the U.S., Brazil, Russia, Peru, Chile, and the United Kingdom).

The alarming rate of growth in the United States is masking the focus on the rapid growth of the pandemic in many developing and least developed countries. For countries with the largest number of confirmed cases, Brazil, India, Mexico, South Africa, Nigeria, Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Iraq, and the Philippines are seeing cases grow in number with no peak as yet. This is also true among many countries in the Middle East where World Bank listings would not have them as lower income countries – Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. For the developing and least developed countries who are not among the forty-two countries who account for 90.62% of total cases through July 5, the rate of growth of new cases in the last two weeks is roughly 50% greater than for the 42 countries — 39.59% increase versus 26.87% increase (47.34% greater).

So the pandemic continues to grow rapidly and is affecting an increasing number of developing and least developed countries. The WHO has repeatedly reviewed the steps any country needs to take to bring the COVID-19 pandemic under control. See WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 – 1 July 2020, https://www.who.int/dg/speeches/detail/who-director-general-s-opening-remarks-at-the-media-briefing-on-covid-19—1-july-2020. The world is not adhering to the required steps, at least for many countries including the United States.

Trade implications

Prior posts have reviewed the array of health and economic challenges for governments that are going through increasing cases during the pandemic. The WTO and others have cataloged the number of export restraints on medical goods imposed by certain countries during the pandemic. Because of the huge increase in demand that occurs for many medical goods when the pandemic spreads in a country, the world has been faced with challenges of adequacy of supplies, openness of markets, and ability to ramp up production as needed. While some restraints have been lifted, many continue. There have also been some export restraints on agricultural goods introduced by countries concerned about access to food supplies during the pandemic despite no actual global food shortage for major crops.

There also have been many efforts at liberalization by countries as they attempt to lower the cost of imported medical goods, streamline customs procedures to expedite delivery of goods, maintain open markets and for other reasons.

Groups of countries at the WTO, in the G20 and through other entities have put forward a range of proposals and action steps to ensure that trade plays its part in minimizing the downside to countries from the pandemic both in terms of health consequences and in terms of economic activity.

With rapidly growing numbers of new COVID-19 cases, one can predict that pressures will continue on export restraints and on needed efforts to ramp up production and inventories of key medical goods. As the number of tests, number of hospitalizations and other medical activities increase, governments will be struggling to find supplies. The United States has had significant problems in the past and will likely experience medical goods shortages again if the number of new cases in the U.S. is not brought under control.

For many developing and least developed countries, there are joint efforts by countries through the Supply Chain Task Force (chaired by the World Health Organization and World Food Programme) to identify medical equipment needs and to work to develop contracts to secure needed supplies and get them to the countries in need. See COVID-19 supply chain system, requesting and receiving supplies, https://www.who.int/publications/m/item/covid-19-supply-chain-system-requesting-and-receiving-supplies. The write-up explaining how it operates is embedded below and reflects the global commitment to see that both medical goods and any eventual vaccines and therapeutics and improved diagnostics are equitably available at affordable prices.

covid-19-supply-chain-system-requesting-and-receiving-supplies-2

While the joint efforts of various UN and other organizations are providing assistance to some 130 countries, challenges exist both as to funding and to access to adequate supplies as demand grows. Below are notes for the record from the Supply Chain Task Force meeting of 23 June 2020 followed by the catalogue of products being covered by the Emergency Global Supply Chain System.

supply-chain-taskforce-nfrs-20200623

20200207233119365

Availability of medical goods should improve as many countries who have gone through the worst of the pandemic (at least phase 1) who produce medical goods are increasingly in a position to increase exports. The challenges will be with overall global capacity and whether certain countries tie up global supplies to safeguard against growing demand in the current phase or to develop inventories should there be a second phase.

Vaccines and therapeutics – developments and challenges for access

There have been extraordinary efforts to ramp up research and development around the world to address COVID-19. Through the WHO and other efforts, there have been greater efforts at coordination of R&D and at the identification of gaps in knowledge and research. Large sums are being committed by some countries and NGOs to help ensure that all countries will have access to vaccines and therapeutics that get developed and that such access will be at affordable prices.

On July 1-2, the WHO held a two day virtual conference both to track progress on COVID-19 research and development efforts and to identify new research priorities. See https://www.who.int/news-room/feature-stories/detail/global-scientific-community-unites-to-track-progress-on-covid-19-r-d-identifies-new-research-priorities-and-critical-gaps.

The WHO has a summary table that shows where different vaccine development projects are. The document is embedded below.

novel-coronavirus-landscape-covid-19-1

However, a major challenge for equitable and affordable access to both vaccines and therapeutics involves the needs of major governments to lock- up capacity for potential vaccines and early therapeutics to take care of their own populations regardless of global giving events or commitments of individual countries to the principles of equitable and affordable access for all.

Prior posts have reviewed efforts of the United States, the European Union and others to lock up large quantities of vaccines from particular manufacturers of vaccines in trials should the trials prove successful. Most countries don’t have the financial capabilities to copy that approach. In addition, many vaccine trials are in China by Chinese pharmaceutical companies raising questions as to how vaccines developed by those companies (in which the Chinese government has investments for some or all of the companies) will be handled and made available to other countries with needs.

Developments in the last week show the challenge will apply equally with therapeutics that are viewed as effective in treating COVID-19. For example, there is one treatment which to date has been shown to shorten the recovery time in patients who have COVID-19. The product is remdesivir produced by U.S. company Gilead. A preliminary report on the results of testing of remdesivir was published in May 2020. See The New England Journal of Medicine, Remdesivir for the Treatment of COVID-19 — Preliminary Report, May 22, 2020.

In a July 4 article in The Guardian, entitled, “Trump is scooping up the world’s remdesivir. It’s a sign of things to come,” the author states “Trump boasted this week that the US had bought the world’s entire supply of remdesivir, the antiviral drug produced by the U.S. biotechnology company Gilead. Though low- and middle-income countries can still produce their own generic versions of the drug, European and other high-income countries are not able to buy remdesivir or produce it for three months. Fortunately the UK and Germany have stockpiled enough of the drug to treat all the patients who need it.” https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jul/04/trump-remdesivir-covid-19-drug.

A Reuters article from July 3rd reviews remdesivir getting conditional EU clearance. See Reuters, Gilead’s COVID-19 antiviral remdesivir gets conditional EU clearance, July 3, 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-eu-remdesivir/gileads-covid-19-antiviral-remdesivir-gets-conditional-eu-clearance-idUSKBN2441GK. “”The EU’s green light broadens the use of remdesivir around the world – the United States has cleaered it for emergency use and it is also approved as a COVID-19 therapy in Japan, Taiwan, India, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates, Gilead said on Friday.”

It is fair to say that with the huge growth in the number of confirmed cases in the U.S. and with the U.S.’s control of supply for the next three months, remdesivir is likely the poster child of the challenges the global community will face in ensuring equitable and affordable access to vaccines and therapeutics going forward.

Conclusion

More than six months into the COVID-19 pandemic, the world continues on a sharp upward trajectory of new cases with a major shift from developed countries to developing and least developed countries as nearly all developed countries (excluding the United States) have managed to get the pandemic under control. With the United States apparently unable to get its house in order, there will be increased stress on medical goods supplies as demand from the U.S. will certainly continue to grow. Global efforts to arrange supplies for developing and least developed countries are showing some positive results. However, such efforts will become more challenging in the coming months as the number of cases in those countries continue to surge and those countries and buying groups compete with the U.S. for supplies.

It has long been known that the world would not be safe from COVID-19 until there were vaccines and therapeutics equitably available to all. For that to be the case, the vaccines and therapeutics need to be affordable for all.

There has historically been the perceived need for countries with the means to secure supplies for their populations during pandemics before making supplies available to all on an equitable basis and at affordable prices. With the COVID-19 seemingly out of control in the United States, there is little doubt that the United States will be doing its best to lock up supplies of vaccines and therapeutics as it has done and as it apparently will need to do to get to the other side of the pandemic.

Activities by the U.S., the EU and others on arranging commitments for promising vaccines and therapeutics will make the global objective of equitable and affordable access harder to achieve.

The reasons for optimism that a better approach will be followed during this pandemic include commitments made by many countries to ensure equitable access at affordable prices, the existence of multilateral organizations working to get getting vaccines to those in need, and the global footprint of at least some of the major companies and consortia developing vaccines and therapeutics which should provide regional production capabilities better able to service global demand.

Look for a challenging rest of 2020 and first half of 2021.

COVID-19 — the global rate of increase of confirmed cases is surging

By the close of business on June 22, there will be more than 9 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 with the rate of growth exploding more than six months after the first cases were reported in China, with deaths approaching a half million. For the two weeks ending June 21, the number of new cases approached 2 million (1,932,024), up 24.0% from the two weeks ending June 7 (1,557,983) which in turn were up 21.5% from the two weeks ending May 24 (1,281,916). Thus, the last six weeks have seen the rate of new cases grow by 50.7%. Indeed, the last six weeks account for 54.25% of total cases since the end of 2019 (roughly 25 weeks).

As the worst of the pandemic has passed (at least the first wave) for most of the developed world (other than the United States and countries in the Middle East), the sharp growth in cases is mostly due to the spread of the virus in the developing world where healthcare infrastructure and ability to handle the challenges of the pandemic are likely less than for the developed world.

Central and South America, parts of Asia and the Middle East are the current hot spots of infections with growth in a number of African countries as well. The United States which peaked during the two week period ending April 26, has by the far the largest number of total cases (more than 2.2 million) and is seeing the number of cases rise again in the most recent two weeks.

Afghanistan, Argentina, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Kuwait, Mexico, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Panama, the Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and the United Arab Republic all have significant numbers of cases and all but Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE are still growing rapidly in terms of new cases where peaks have not been reached. Thus, the likelihood of even greater number of new cases is a near certainty for the coming weeks.

Some recent developments

Most of western Europe has been engaged in reopening in recent weeks as the rates of infection are dramatically lower than in the March-April period. Indeed, travel within the EU and some neighboring countries is opening up in time for the July-August vacation season. Time will tell if the steps being taken to test, trace and quarantine any cases found going forward will minimize any upward movement in cases.

China and parts of Asia with low rates of infections where economic interruption has been less (e.g., Taiwan, the Republic of Korea, Singapore and Japan), are seeing low numbers of new cases. China has taken strong measures to address a new outbreak in Beijing (numbers are a few hundred cases).

Australia and New Zealand have few if any new cases and the numbers for Canada are also way down with reopening occurring as would be expected.

The U.S. and Canada and the U.S. and Mexico are maintaining travel restrictions between themselves (though excluding movement of goods and services).

In the United States, the story on the control of the pandemic is very mixed as individual states have been engaged in reopening at different rates in part reflecting different infection rates and growth rates. However, reopening in some states is occurring despite conditions in the state not being consistent with the Administration’s guidelines from the Center for Disease Control ad Prevention (“CDC”) on when reopening should occur. Thus, there are states seeing large increases in recent days and weeks while many other states are seeing significant declines or at least stable rates of infection. It is unclear how the infection rate in the U.S. will progress in the coming weeks and months.

Trade Considerations

As my post from last week on the Ottawa Group communication reviewed, there are lots of proposals that have been teed up by WTO Members to keep trade flowing during the pandemic and to potentially reduce the likelihood of such trade disruptions as are being experienced at present in future pandemics.

But large numbers of export restraints remain in place, transparency is better than it was in the first quarter but still not what is needed. However, import liberalization/expedition is occurring in many countries to facilitate obtaining medical goods needed at the lowest price.

The toll flowing from the pandemic and the closing of economies to control the pandemic is enormous despite efforts of governments to provide funding to reduce the damage. This has led the WTO to project 2020 trade flows to decline between 13 and 32% from 2019 levels. As data are available for the March-June period, the severity of the decline for various markets is being fleshed out and resulting in lower global GDP growth projections.

Because the COVID-19 pandemic hit many developed countries hard before spreading to most of the developing world, developing countries have seen economic effects from the pandemic preceding the health effects in their countries. Reduced export opportunities, declining commodity prices (many developing countries are dependent on one or a few commodities for foreign exchange), reduced foreign investment (and some capital flight), higher import prices for critical goods due to scarcity (medical goods) and logistics complications flowing from countries efforts to address the spread of the pandemic are a few examples of the economic harm occurring to many developing countries.

The needs of developing countries for debt forgiveness/postponement appears much larger than projected although multilateral organizations, regional development banks and the G20 have all been working to provide at least some significant assistance to many individual countries. Trade financing will continue to be a major challenge for many developing countries during the pandemic. Harm to small businesses is staggering and will set many countries back years if not decades in their development efforts when the pandemic is past.

As can be seen in developed countries, sectors like travel and tourism (including airlines, hotels, restaurants, entertainment venues) are extraordinarily hard hit and may not recover for the foreseeable future. The need for social distancing makes many business models (e.g., most restaurants, movie theaters, bars, etc.) unworkable and will result in the loss of large portions of small businesses in those sectors in the coming months. For many developing countries, travel and tourism are a major source of employment and income. Losses in employment will likely be in the tens of millions of jobs, many of which may not return for years if at all.

Role of WTO during Pandemic

The WTO views itself as performing the useful functions of (1) gathering through notifications information from Members on their actions responding to the pandemic and getting that information out to Members and the public, (2) providing forecasts of the trade flows during the pandemic, and (3) providing a forum for Members to bring forward proposals on what action the WTO as a whole should consider. Obviously the success of all three functions depends on the openness and engagement of the Members.

WTO agreements don’t really have comprehensive rules for addressing pandemics or for the policy space governments are likely to need to respond to the economic tsunami that may unfold (and will unfold with different intensities for different Members). Some recent proposals would try to address some of the potential needs for the trading system to better respond to pandemics. However, most proposals seem to suggest narrowing the policy space. Last week’s Committee on Agriculture was reported to have had many Members challenging other Members actions in the agriculture space responding to the extraordinary challenges flowing from the pandemic. While Committee activity is designed to permit Members the opportunity to better understand the policies of trading partners, a process in Committee which focuses simply on conformance to existing rules without consideration of what, if any, flexibilities are needed in extraordinary circumstances seems certain to result in less relevance of the WTO going forward.

Most countries have recognized that the depth of the economic collapse being cased by the global efforts to respond to COVID-19 will require Members to take extraordinary steps to keep economies from collapsing. Looking at the huge stimulus programs put in place and efforts to prevent entire sectors of economies from collapsing, efforts to date by major developed countries are some $10 trillion. Concerns expressed by the EU and others have generally not been the need for such programs, but rather have been on ensuring any departures from WTO norms are minimized in time and permit a return to the functioning of market economies as quickly as possible.

Members have not to date proposed, but should agree, that the WTO undertake an evaluation of programs pursued by Members and how existing rules do or do not address the needs of Members in these extraordinary times.

WTO Dispute Settlement – January 24, 2020 Statement by Ministers at Davos, Switzerland on Interim Appeal Arrangement Amongst Certain Major Countries

The WTO’s Appellate Body has not been in a position to handle any appeals from panel reports where the appeal was filed after December 10, 2019 and is processing some but not all of the appeals that were pending on that date. This situation flows from the existence of just one of seven Appellate Body slots currently being filled and the Dispute Settlement Understanding (“DSU”)requirement that appeals be heard by three members of the Appellate Body. The slots are unfilled as the United States has blocked the start of the process over the last two years while pressing WTO Members to acknowledge longstanding problems in how disputes are handled and to come up with effective reforms. For the United States, this requires WTO Members to come to grips with why clear requirements of the DSU were being ignored or violated by the Appellate Body.

For most members of the WTO, achieving a resolution of the dispute settlement impasse is a high priority with many countries looking to see if some form of interim approach could be adopted by those with an interest in having an interim process for a second tier review of panel reports by participating members. The European Union had announced bilateral arrangements with Canada and with Norway in 2019 and discussions have occurred with and among other countries about whether arbitration-type arrangements based on Article 25 of the DSU should be agreed to during the period when a solution to the impasse is pursued.

Earlier this week on the sidelines of the annual World Economic Forum, ministers from a number of WTO Members issued a statement indicating that a large number of WTO Members would work towards contingency measures. The statement was on behalf of seventeen WTO Members (46 Members if the EU’s 28 member countries are counted instead of the EU). The list includes a number of large trading nations including the EU, China, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Australia and Korea along with ten others (Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Singapore, Sitzerland and Uruguay. The joint statement follows:

Statement by Ministers, Davos, Switzerland, 24 January 2020
“’We, the Ministers of Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, European Union, Guatemala, Republic of Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Singapore, Switzerland, Uruguay, remain committed to work with the whole WTO membership to find a lasting improvement to the situation relating to the WTO Appellate Body. We believe that a functioning dispute settlement system of the WTO is of the utmost importance for a rules-based trading system, and that an independent and impartial appeal stage must continue to be one of its essential features.

“Meanwhile, we will work towards putting in place contingency measures that would allow for appeals of WTO panel reports in disputes among ourselves, in the form of a multi-party interim appeal arrangement based on Article 25 of the WTO Dispute Settlement Understanding, and which would be in place only and until a reformed WTO Appellate Body becomes fully operational. This arrangement will be open to any WTO Member willing to join it.

“We have instructed our officials to expeditiously finalise work on such an arrangement.

We have also taken proper note of the recent engagement of President Trump on WTO reform.’”

https://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/docs/2020/january/tradoc_158596.pdf

Since Australia and Brazil had been looking at a different approach than that announced by the EU and Canada or the EU and Norway, it will be interesting to see what type of contingency measures the larger group agrees upon. The U.S. had significant problems with the EU approach when it was announced last year as it simply continued many of the problems that the U.S. has identified as needing correction. A similar approach by the larger group would likely add complications to finding a permanent solution and also likely discourage at least some other WTO Members from joining the group’s approach.

Likely Coverage of Disputes by the 17 WTO Members

There are 164 WTO Members at the present time and there have been a total of 593 requests for consultations filed by WTO Members since the WTO came into existence in January 1995. The WTO webpage lists all disputes where a Member has been the complainant, the respondent or acted as a third party. Not all requests for consultations result in panels being requested, and not all panel proceedings result in appeals being filed. But a review of number of requests for consultations filed by a Member and the number of such requests where a Member was the respondent helps understand the coverage likely from the seventeen Members (46 at individual country level) who released the joint statement.

However, the data from the WTO webpage needs to be modified to eliminate requests for consultations where one party was not one of the seventeen Members. The following table reviews the data and then corrects to eliminate cases where the complainant or respondent was not another of the seventeen Members.

WTO Member# of cases complainant # of cases respondentcomplainant among 17respondent among 17
Australia91644
Brazil3316117
Canada40231811
China2144519
Chile101346
Colombia5735
European Union10486*/1123323*/49
Guatemala10272
Korea211847
Mexico2515118
New Zealand9030
Norway5030
Panama7161
Singapore1010
Switzerland5020
Uruguay1111
Subtotal306242/26811694/120
All countries593593593593

NOTE: EU numbers as a respondent differ based on whether include cases where EU is listed or just one or more of the EU member states (26 individual member disputes).

While the seventeen Members are obviously important WTO trading nations and participants in the dispute settlement system, the percent of disputes where the seventeen members are engaged in disputes with each other is obviously much smaller than their total number of disputes. Thus, the seventeen members accounted for 51.6% of the requests for consultations filed in the first twenty-five years and were respondents in 45.2% of the requests for consultations. However, when disputes with any of the 118 WTO Members who are not part of the joint statement are removed, the seventeen Members accounted for 19.56% of the cases where one was a complainant and 20.2% of the cases where one was a respondent. This is not surprising as there are many important trading nations who are not part of the seventeen signatories who are active both as complainants and as respondents – United States, Japan, India, South Africa, Argentina to name just five.

Of course, WTO Members do not have to be part of a group interim arrangement to handle ongoing or new disputes. Members can agree not to take an appeal, can agree (as the U.S. and India have done in one case) to hold up appeal until the Appellate Body is back functioning, to name two approaches some are pursuing.

While an interim approach is obviously of interest to many, the core issue remains finding a road forward to address needed reforms to the dispute settlement system. There seems to be little progress on that front. Procedural issues appear easier to resolve if consequences are added for deviation from procedural requirements. However, there is little active consideration of how to address the problem of overreach both prospectively and retroactively to permit a restoration of rights and obligations where panel reports or Appellate Body decisions created obligations or rights not contained in the Agreements.

In a Member driven organization, the hard work of the Secretariat doesn’t overcome fundamentally different views of how the dispute settlement system is supposed to operate. Thus, while it is a positive development that Director-General Azevedo and his team will visit Washington in the near future to discuss U.S. reform ideas, the real challenge is getting agreement on what the system is supposed to be and how to restore the balance that existed when the WTO commenced in 1995.