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. Seehttps://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/geographical-distribution-2019-ncov-cases. June 7th report embedded below.
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.
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. Seehttps://www.gavi.org/news/media-room/world-leaders-make-historic-commitments-provide-equal-access-vaccines-all.
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.
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.
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%. Seehttps://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%. Seehttps://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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
cases through 5-11
14 days to 4-11
14 days to 4-27
14 days to 5-11
EU27 + UK
D.R. of the Congo
U.R. of Tanzania
All Other Countries
Total of all countries
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.
When WTO Members launched the Doha Development Agenda in November 2001, one of the topics to be explored was fisheries subsidies as outlined as part of the Rules paragraph 28:
“In the context of these negotiations, participants shall also aim to clarify and improve WTO disciplines on fisheries subsidies, taking into account the importance of this sector to developing countries.” Ministerial Declaration, para. 28, WT/MIN(01)/Dec/1.
Fisheries subsidies were also mentioned in paragraph 31 of the Declaration dealing with topics within trade and environment that would be explored.
More than 18 years later, WTO members are pushing to reach agreement on new disciplines on fisheries subsidies by the time of the 12th Ministerial Conference to be held in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan in early June 2020.
The push is related to the 2020 deadline included in the September 2015 UN Sustainable Development Goals (“SDG”) 14.6: “by 2020, prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies which contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, and eliminate subsidies that contribute to IUU fishing, and refrain from introducing new such subsidies, recognizing that appropriate and effective special and differential treatment for developing and least developed countries should be an integral part of the WTO fisheries subsidies negotiation.” The term “IUU” refers to “illegal, unreported, and unregulated” fishing.
At the 11th WTO Ministerial Conference, WTO members adopted a decision to complete fisheries subsidies negotiations by the next Ministerial Conference. See WT/MIN(17)/64; WT/L/1031:
“MINISTERIAL DECISION OF 13 DECEMBER 2017
“The Ministerial Conference
“Decides as follows:
“1. Building on the progress made since the 10th Ministerial Conference as reflected in documents TN/RL/W/274/Rev.2, RD/TN/RL/29/Rev.3, Members agree to continue to engage constructively in the fisheries subsidies negotiations, with a view to adopting, by the Ministerial Conference in 2019, an agreement on comprehensive and effective disciplines that prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, and eliminate subsidies that contribute to IUU-fishing recognizing that appropriate and effective special and differential treatment for developing country Members and least developed country Members should be an integral part of these negotiations.
“2. Members re-commit to implementation of existing notification obligations under Article 25.3 of the Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures thus strengthening transparency with respect to fisheries subsidies.”
Why the interest in fisheries subsidies?
For decades, the world has been experiencing overfishing of various species of fish in different parts of the world. The U.N.Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that between 1974 and 2015 fish stocks that are not within biologically sustainable levels increased from 10% in 1974 to 33.1% in 2015. FAO, The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2018 (“2018 Report) at 6. This decline has occurred despite efforts made by various countries to regulate capture/production.
“Despite the continuous increase in the percentage of stocks fished at biologically unsustainable levels, progress has been made in some regions. For example, the proportion of stocks fished within biologically sustainable levels increased from 53 percent in 2005 to 74 percent in 2016 in the United States of America, and from 27 percent in 2004 to 69 percent in 2015 in Australia.” 2018 Report at 6.
Because of, inter alia, the importance of the fishing industry to many countries and fish to the diets of many peoples, there has been concern for many years with actions needed by nations to ensure the sustainability of fish captures.
The FAO’s 2018 Report provides a great deal of information on the importance of fish to developing and least developed countries and the various actions being taken to address meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (“SDGs”) pertaining to fish and the oceans.
The WTO’s negotiations on fisheries subsidies are just one part of the much larger group of SDGs being pursued by countries as part of the UN targets and only deals with ocean/sea wild caught fish, not with aquaculture and not with inland caught fish. The FAO’s 2018 Report is attached below.
As Table 1 in the 2018 Report shows, there has been a rapid growth in aquaculture so that by 2016, there was greater volume from aquaculture than there was from “marine caught”. Specifically, in 2016 aquaculture accounted fro 80.0 million metric tons (46.8%) of the total production/ capture, marine capture was 79.3 million metric tons (46.4%) and inland capture was 11.6 million metric tons (6.8%) – for a total of 170.9 million metric tons. Data do not include information on aquatic mammals, crocodiles, alligators, caimans, seaweeds and other aquatic plants. 2018 Report, Table 1, page 4.
While aquaculture has grown, marine capture has declined or stagnated over time and with growing levels of overfishing, longer term decline will occur in this sector absent concerted steps to manage the volume pursued at sea. Overfishing is believed due to overbuilding of fishing fleets and the level of fishing that contravenes national laws, is unrecorded and/or unregulated. Thus, the efforts within the WTO to impose disciplines on subsidies benefiting IUU fishing and/or contributing to overfishing are an important element in achieving catch rates that are sustainable versus unsustainable and declining.
Importance of marine fishing to developed, developing and least developed countries
The FAO gathers information on the amount of marine capture (as well as inland capture and aquaculture) annually. The latest data available from FAO are for 2017. FAO, Fishery and Aquaculture Statistical Yearbook 2017, http://www.fao.org/fishery/static/Yearbook/YB2017_USBcard/index.htm. The average marine caught volumes for the years 2015-2017 from the FAO data base were summarized for WTO Members in a July 11, 2019 submission to the WTO rules negotiations addressing fisheries subsidies. The submission was made by Argentina, Australia, the United States and Uruguay. Top marine caught Members are presented below in millions of metric tons and percent of world production:
Production (mm tonnes)
% of World Production
Republic of Korea
TN/RL/GEN/197/Rev.2, pages 4-7, Annex I (11 July 2019). Data for the EU and the US contain data from various islands referenced on page 4 in fotnotes a and b. The Annex lists 136 of the 164 WTO members and their production/volumes although no data are available for 28 WTO members (some of which are landlocked and hence may have no marine caught fish). The full listing is attached below.
As reviewed in the 2018 Report (page 2), fish make up an increasing share of animal protein for humans, with 100% of the increase being accounted for by expanding aquaculture:
“The expansion in consumption has been driven not only by increased production, but also by other factors, including reduced wastage. In 2015, fish accounted for about 17 percent of animal protein consumed by the global population. Moreover, fish provided about 3.2 billion people with almost 20 percent of their average per capita intake of animal protein. Despite their relatively low levels of fish consumption, people in developing countries have a higher share of fish protein in their diets than those in developed countries. The highest per capita fish consumption, over 50 kg, is found in several small island developing States (SIDS), particularly in Oceania, while the lowest levels, just above 2 kg, are in Central Asia and some landlocked countries.”
Fishing/fisheries are an important source of employment for many countries, with the vast majority of such employment being in countries in Asia, Latin America and Africa. Specifically in 2016 worldwide fisheries employment was estimated at 40.338 million people (no breakout between marine and inland caught). Of this number, 31.990 million were in Asia ((79.3%), 5.367 million were in Africa (13.3%) and 2.085 million were in Latin America and the Caribbean (5.2%) , with just 896,000 jobs in North America, Europe and Oceania. Several important individual countries are shown in the 2018 Report — China with 14.5 million jobs in fisheries in 2016 (36% of global) and Indonesia with 2.7 million folks employed in fisheries (6.7% of global employment in the sector). 2018 Report at 32-33. Much of the employment in fisheries around the world is from family run operations, often subsistence in nature, and mainly using small boats (less than 12 meters in length and a large portion of which are not motorized).
The 2018 Report indicates that in 2016 the number of fishing vessels in the world were 4.6 million, 2.8 million of which were motorized. Of the 4.6 million vessels, 75.4% were in Asia, 14.0% in Africa, 6.4% in Latin America and the Caribbean, 2.1% in Europe, 1.8% in North America and 0.3% in Oceania. 100% of Europe’s vessels were motorized, more than 90% of those in North America, but only some 25% in Africa. See pages 36-38 of the 2018 Report.
WTO Efforts at Increasing Disciplineson Marine Fisheries Subsidies
The negotiations have been complicated by many issues that are not typical for trade negotiations. Here are a few of the perceived problem issues:
(a) problem being addressed relates to depletion of scarce global resources through overfishing flowing from subsidies that create excess capacity;
(b) production occurs not only in national waters but in the open seas and through contracts to capture fish in third countries’ waters;
(c) concerns about effect of negotiations on outstanding territorial disputes/claims;
(d) the challenge of disciplining subsidies provided by one country on fishing vessels which are flagged in a different country;
(e) the lack of meaningful data from many developing and least developed countries which complicates understanding the level of marine capture;
(f) for many developing and least developed countries, the large part of fishing fleets which are subsistence or artisanal in nature;
(g) the large portion of global capture which is developing and least developed country in origin vs. desire for special and differential treatment for such countries;
(h) challenge of whether traditional S&D provisions (exclusion from disciplines, lesser reductions, longer implementation periods) are actually harmful to developing and least developed countries where continued erosion of marine catch from overfishing will actually hurt the fishermen and fisherwomen of the countries receiving S&D consideration;
(i) whether dispute settlement as applicable to other WTO agreements (whether SCMA or other) will serve the underlying objectives of any negotiated agreement or needs to be modified to reflect the unique objectives of the agreement.
On the question of level of subsidization, there are the usual questions of what, if any, subsidies will be allowed as not causing concerns re growing capacity or overfishing and whether there is some level of acceptable subsidies even if adding to capacity.
While the set of public documents from the negotiations are reasonable through much of 2018, the resort to Room Documents (which are not made public) and other classification of documents, means that much of the current drafts of sections of a possible agreement are not publicly available. For example, there were ten documents identified as made available to WTO Members for the May 8, 2019 Informal Open-ended Negotiating Group on Rules (Fisheries Subsidies). Seven of the ten documents are not available to the public as “Room Documents” even if the documents were generated weeks or months before the meeting. See, e.g., RD/TN/RL/72 (17/12/2018); RD/TN/RL/81 (21/03/2019); RD/TN/RL/77/Rev.1 (21/03/2019); RD/TN/RL/82 (08/04/2019); RD/TN/RL/79/Rev.1 (18/04/2019); RD/TN/RL/83 (02/05/2019); RD/TN/RL/84 (06/05/2019).
Similarly, WTO Members have done a relatively poor job of notifying the subsidies provided to marine fisheries. Even with improvements in notifications in 2019, as late as November 2019, nine of the 26 largest providers of fisheries subsidies had not provided notifications and some who had done so in 2019 submitted the first notifications of such programs in 20 years. Members welcome progress in notification of fisheries subsidies, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news19_e/scm_19nov19_e.htm.
There is a draft document from the Chair of the negotiations from 14 November 2018, TN/RL/W/274/Rev.6 which lays out the Chair’s understanding of negotiations as of that date. The document is attached below and is heavily bracketed meaning that at the time of the draft there was not agreement on the bracketed text or options were shown.
Some public submissions show that countries or groups of countries are still putting forward approaches on topics of importance. For example there are 2019 submissions on the following topics: fishing vessels not flying the member’s flag (e.g., TN/RL/GEN/201/Rev.1 (proposed prohibiting subsidies to such vessels)(Argentina, Australia, Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand, the United States, and Uruguay), on a cap-based approach to addressing certain fisheries subsidies [(TN/RL/GEN/197/Rev.2) and TN/RL/GEN/203)(Argentina, Australia, the United States, and Uruguay) vs. different approach put forward by China (TN/RL/199)], on whether different dispute settlement principles need to be considered (TN/RL/GEN/198, Canadian discussion paper), the breadth of special and differential treatment for developing and least developed countries (TN/RL/200, submission from India).
Interestingly, a submission from New Zealand and Iceland in 2018 warned other WTO members that a focus on fishing in international waters vs. marine catch in national waters would result in any agreement addressing very little of the marine catch volume as would other overly narrow scope approaches:
‘6.SDG Target 14.6 is clear that subsidies that contribute to both overcapacity and overfishing must be prohibited. An outcome which excluded the most harmful types of subsidies which contribute to overcapacity and overfishing would therefore not satisfy SDG Target 14.6. An outcome that addressed capacity or overfishing in just a hortatory way or in a manner that applied disciplines only to a small subset of subsidies or the world’s fishing fleet would similarly fail to meet the requirements of SDG Target 14.6.
“7. For example, the current emphasis on subsidies to fishing beyond national jurisdiction is warranted given the weaker governance and resource and development impacts of such fishing. This however must not be at the exclusion of waters under national jurisdiction where the vast majority of global catch – 88% – is taken.1 Similarly, the emphasis on overfished stocks should not equate to an exception for other stocks as doing so would exclude nearly 70% of the world’s fisheries.2 Taken together, these two approaches alone would result in barely 8% of the world’s fisheries being subject to subsidy prohibitions.3 “2 FAO. 2016. The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2016. “3 Two thirds of fish stocks managed by RFMOs are overfished or depleted: Cullis-Suzuki, S. & Pauly, D. (2010). Failing the high seas: a global evaluation of regional fisheries management organization. Marine Policy 34: 1036–1042.”
Advancing Fisheries Subsidies Prohibitions on Subsidies Contributing to Overcapacity and Overfishing, TN/RL/W/275 at 2 (8 May 2018)(New Zealand and Iceland).
Will WTO Members Deliver Meaningful Fisheries Subsidies Reform
The fact that the negotiations have taken more tan 18 years and that major countries appear to remain widely apart on many key issues suggests that the road to success will be challenging.
For example, India’s proposal for S&D would result in large amounts of fisheries subsidies not being addressed by the agreement (whatever the scope of subsidies addressed) rendering any agreement of minimal assistance in fact if adopted following that approach.
There are significant differences in approaches to limiting subsidies as can be seen in the different cap approaches presented by China and a group of other countries (Argentina, Australia, the United States and Uruguay).
Similarly, there is a disconnect between the problems being addressed (overcapacity and overfishing) and the traditional role of S&D to eliminate, reduce and/or delay obligations. For the fisheries subsidies negotiations to achieve a meaningful result, the WTO Members need to revisit what the role of special and differential needs to be to achieve better marine catch for developing and least developed countries. The focus needs to be on helping LDCs and developing countries develop accurate data on marine catch, developing the capacity to participate in regional management programs, finding assistance to fishermen and fisherwomen affected by depleted marine catches to survive/choose alternative work until such time as sustainable levels of wild caught fish are again available. But all countries need to contribute to limiting fisheries subsidies where excess capacity or overfishing are the likely result.
And there is the U.S. position that S&D will only be approved in any new agreement if it is limited to those countries with an actual need (i.e., certain countries would not take such benefits). Considering the role of major countries like China and India in marine catch, one can expect challenges in having those countries (and possibly others) agree to forego S&D provisions.
Net/net – as most Members seem to be focused on the wrong questions, there is a reasonable probability that the Kazakhstan Ministerial will not see a meaningful set of disciplines adopted on fisheries subsidies to address the challenges to marine catch from overcapacity and overfishing.