Saudi Arabia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oil and gas sector suffers declining demand, collapsing prices, expanded state involvement — skewed economic results damage much of the global economy

The United States and many other countries view the World Trade Organization as the forum for global trade rules that support market economies. One of the challenges for the WTO going forward is what to do with the important Members whose economic systems are not anchored in market economic principles. While China is the most frequently mentioned WTO Member whose economic system is causing massive disruptions for market economies, there are other countries with important sectors that are state-owned, controlled and directed. The United States, European Union and Japan have been working on proposals for modifications of WTO rules to address distortions flowing from massive industrial subsidies and state controlled sectors that do not operate on market principles.

While WTO reform is not likely to see serious engagement by WTO Members before the COVID-19 pandemic is brought under control, the sharp contraction of economic activity in many countries is highlighting the importance for WTO Members actually addressing the role of the state in industry and rule changes needed to avoid the massive distortions that state involvement too often created.

Oil and Gas as an Example

Few industrial sectors have as much state ownership and control as the oil and gas sector. While there are countries with privately owned producers, much of the world operates with producers that are state owned or state controlled. Since the 1960s, a number of countries have engaged in cartel-like activity to collectively address production levels to achieve desired price levels. While many of these countries are part of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (“OPEC”), OPEC meets with other countries as well in an effort to achieve production and pricing levels. Current OPEC members include Algeria, Angola, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela.

The activity has resulted in artificial pricing levels in export markets as compared to prices in home markets of OPEC members and periodic price shocks based on collective action. Large price increases in the 1970s led to high levels of inflation and rapid changes to manufacturing operations in some countries.

  1. Economic contraction as countries struggle to limit spread of the coronavirus

There has been a sharp contraction in demand for petroleum products in 2020 as countries have shut down movement of people in an effort to control the spread of COVID-19. Air travel has been decimated in many parts of the world and there are significant reductions in automobile travel. Manufacturing has also seen significant reductions. The contractions have resulted not only in national reductions in use of petroleum products but also international reductions both directly (reduced air traffic and ship traffic) and because of disruptions to supply chains which have reduced downstream production.

The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission released a staff research report on April 21, 2020 entitled “Cascading Economic Impacts of the COVID-19 Outbreak in China” which reviews information on the wide range of economic impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic as felt in the U.S. https://www.uscc.gov/sites/default/files/2020-04/Cascading_Economic_Impacts_of_the_Novel_Coronavirus_April_21_2020.pdf. The report includes a section entitled “Turmoil in Energy Markets” which states,

“The standstill in Chinese production and halt in flows of goods and people has drastically depressed Chinese demand for energy products such as crude oil and liquified natural gas (LNG), adding pressure to an oil supply glut that had materialized at the end of 2019.99 In December of 2019, Institute of International Finance economist Garbis Iradian had forecasted a supply glut, pointing to high output from Brazil, Canada, and the United States.100 The COVID-19 outbreak exacerbated this challenging outlook. As the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) reported in April 2020: ‘The largest ever monthly decline in petroleum demand in China occurred in February 2020.’101 Chinese oil demand ‘shrank by a massive 3.2 million barrels per day’ over the prior year.102 Research by OPEC forecasted China’s 2020 demand for oil will decrease by 0.83 million barrels per day over 2019.103 As the largest oil importer,104 Chinese oil consumption has a significant impact on global demand. In 2019, China accounted for 14 percent of global oil demand and more than 80 percent of growth in oil demand.105 Following the outbreak in China, the OPEC Joint Technical Committee held a meeting on February 8 to recommend new and continued oil production adjustments in light of “the negative impact on oil demand” due to depressed economic activity, “particularly in the transportation, tourism, and industry sectors, particularly in China.”106 In LNG markets, on February 10, Caixin reported Chinese state-owned oil giant China National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC) requested a reduction of an unknown quantity in LNG shipments, invoking a “force majeure” clause due to COVID-19.107 S&P Global Platts, an energy and commodities analysis group, stated China’s LNG imports in January and February fell more than 6 percent over the same period in 2019.108

Prices have also dropped in this period. OPEC’s reference price index fell from $66.48 per barrel in December 2019 to $55.49 per barrel in February 2020, a drop of 19.8 percent.109 These price cuts are causing financially strapped* U.S. energy producers to cut back investment in oil and gas projects as profits erode. The U.S. Energy Information Administration forecasts that the current drop in oil prices will lead to lower U.S. crude oil production beginning in the third quarter of 2020.110″

The complete report is embedded below (footnotes 99-110 can be found on page 22 of the report).

USCC-staff-research-Cascading_Economic_Impacts_of_the_Novel_Coronavirus_April_21_2020

2. State-owned or controlled oil companies create further crisis

With a sharp contraction in oil demand, one would expect falling oil prices and reductions in global production over time. OPEC efforts to achieve reductions in production amongst themselves and Russia didn’t work out with Russia walking out of talks to reduce production to prevent further price declines. Russia and Saudi Arabia then engaged in a price war which resulted in further sharp price reductions in March and early April, large surpluses of oil in the market, with dwindling storage capacity for surplus production. See, e.g., https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2020_Russia%E2%80%93Saudi_Arabia_oil_price_war (and sources cited therein). Below is a graph of crude oil prices from 2015 through April 2020.

3. April Agreement to Reduce Production Beginning in May and June 2020

The United States, concerned with the collapse of oil prices and the effects on U.S. producers and oil/gas field companies, engaged in outreach to both Saudi Arabia and Russia to seek a solution. OPEC members, Russia and many others (including the United States) agreed to global production reductions of close to 10 million barrels/day beginning in May and carrying through June, with smaller reductions for later periods, in an effort to bring about balance between supply and demand. See, e.g., April 12, 2020, AP article, “OPEC, oil nations agree to nearly 10M barrel cut amid virus,” https://apnews.com/e9b73ec833e9a5ad304a69e3b9b86914. The U.S. Department of Energy has a webpage that reviews statements by members of Congress and others on the OPEC+ deal.

Because the agreement kicks in at the beginning of May, the continued production and reductions in available storage for oil resulted in further declines in oil prices, with prices on April 20 going negative for the first time in history. Prices have recovered somewhat in the last several days. https://www.cnbc.com/2020/04/24/oil-prices-could-remain-under-pressure-according-to-satellite-imagery-analysis.html; https://oilprice.com/Latest-Energy-News/World-News/OPECs-No3-Already-Started-Cutting-Oil-Supply.html.

WTO Challenges

Joint action during the global COVID-19 pandemic may be understandable and in keeping with the resort to extraordinary measures by governments during the crisis to preserve health and economies. Nonetheless, the extraordinary distortions that flow to global commerce from joint government activity limiting production of oil and gas products or establishing minimum prices for export have been ignored within the GATT and now the WTO for decades. This is unfortunate as the distortions affect both competing producers of the products in question in other countries and also downstream users and consumers more broadly. The overall distortions over time are certainly in the trillions of dollars.

GATT Art. XX(g) permits governments to enforce measures “relating to the conservation of exhaustible natural resources if such measures are made effective in conjunction with restrictions on domestic production or consumption.” While there have been some cases where Art. XX(g) has been examined, actions by OPEC or OPEC+ countries to limit production (and hence exports) have never been challenged.

While there are national antitrust laws in many countries, such laws (such as those in the United States) don’t make government interference in the economy or government restrictions on export actionable despite the harm to consumers and to downstream manufacturers.

In a consensus based system like the WTO, the likelihood of obtaining improved rules on state-owned or state-invested companies or to restrict governments’ ability to unilaterally or jointly restrict production and exports seems implausible. This is especially true on oil and gas with Saudi Arabia and Russia as WTO Members. The US-EU-Japan initiative hasn’t yet fleshed out possible rule changes for state entities, so one may see some efforts in the coming years that could be useful if accepted by the full membership. But if there is to be meaningful WTO reform, agreeing on rules for the actions of governments that affect production and trade in goods and services is clearly of great importance. Without such rules, the WTO will not actually support market economies in critical ways.

Modifying antitrust laws is the other option, but one which legislators have been unwilling to address over the last fifty years. It is not clear that there are current champions of such modifications in the United States or in other major countries.

Conclusion

There are many sectors of economies that are being seriously adversely affected by efforts to control the spread of COVID-19. Governments are taking extraordinary actions to try to prevent their economies from collapsing under the strains of social distancing.

The oil and gas sector is one where there has been significant negative volume and price effects. Unfortunately the extent of the negative volume and price effects is driven in large part by the actions of governments who are preventing the global market for these products from functioning correctly, just as government actions have interfered in the functioning of these markets for the last fifty-sixty years.

The recent agreement to slash global production by nearly 10 million barrels per day was needed in light of the extensive government interference that has characterized the market and the actions by Russia and Saudi Arabia in March and early April.

More importantly, the long-term government involvement and interference with the functioning of the sector should cause trade negotiators and legislators to be looking at how to reform the WTO and/or modify national laws to prevent government ownership, control or cartel-like actions from distorting trade flows and economies. The need is pressing, but don’t hold your breath for action in the coming years.

COVID-19 – G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors April 15, 2020 Communique and G20 Action Plan

With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to expand globally, with confirmed cases roughly 2.2 million on April 17 and with deaths exceeding 150,000, the world’s major economies continue to meet to promote policies and take individual and collective actions to address the health, social and economic impacts from the pandemic.

The G20 finance ministers and central bank governors met virtually earlier this week in an effort to push forward the overall objectives of G20 leaders. The communique that was released at the end of the virtual meeting included an Annex containing a “G20 Action Plan – Supporting the Global Economy through the COVID-19 Pandemic”. Below is a lengthy excerpt from the opening remarks of Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Finance, H.E. Mr. Mohammed bin Abdullah Al-Jadaan. Saudi Arabia holds the presidency of the G20 in 2020.

“We have just concluded our second G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors meeting on the margin of the 2020 spring meetings.

“This pandemic has already taken a great toll on our people and on their economic wellbeing, and we are still faced with extraordinary uncertainty about the depth and duration of this global pandemic.

“G20 Leaders, during the G20 Extraordinary Leaders’ Summit on 26 March 2020, recognized the gravity of the intertwined public health and economic crises. They have therefore committed to a globally coordinated response encompassing all necessary measures to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

“More recently, G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors convened two extraordinary meetings to reach a consensus on a roadmap that will implement our G20 Leaders’ commitments in responding to COVID-19.

“Ministers and Governors’ urgent collective priority is to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic and its intertwined health, social and economic impacts. We are determined to spare no effort, both individually and collectively, to protect lives, overcome the pandemic, safeguard people’s jobs and incomes, support the global economy during and after this phase and ensure the resilience of the financial system.

“These are unprecedented times that demand swift, strong and significant global action. G20 members have injected over $7 trillion into the global economy to protect jobs, businesses and economies, billions have been allocated to the hunt for vaccines, research and development, protection of front line health workers and addressing trade issues on vital goods. Our
efforts must continue and be amplified.

“Ministers and Governors are committed to use all available policy tools to support the global economy, boost confidence, maintain financial stability and prevent deep and prolonged economic effects. As mandated by the extraordinary G20 Leaders’ Summit, today Ministers and Governors endorsed a G20 Action Plan in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Plan sets out our commitments to specific actions to drive forward international economic cooperation as we navigate this crisis and look ahead to a robust and sustained global economic recovery.

“Our aim, with the action plan, is to support the necessary health response and measures to increase our collective health resilience for the future, preventing a liquidity crisis turning into a solvency crisis, and a global recession becoming a global depression.

“Ministers and Governors have worked as well to deliver international financial assistance to the developing countries.

“Our actions today include a G20 initiative to suspend debt service payments for the poorest countries. All bilateral official creditors will participate in this initiative, which is an important milestone for the G20. The multilateral development banks are also expected to further explore the options for their participation in this initiative. And through this platform, I also call on private creditors, working through the Institute of International Finance, to participate in this initiative on comparable terms.
In addition, our collective actions today resulted in a comprehensive IMF financial support package and implementing urgently the support proposed by the WBG and the Multilateral Development Banks, amounting to USD 200 billion. Ministers and Governors have also taken exceptional measures to develop bilateral swap lines and repo facilities by central banks.”

The Communique and its Annexes can be found here, http://www.g20.utoronto.ca/2020/2020-g20-finance-0415.html, and the document is embedded below.

Communiqué_-G20-Finance-Ministers-and-Central-Bank-Governors-April-15-2020

The action plan provides a number of useful agreed actions to address the three broad needs for governmental action to respond to the pandemic – the health response (saving lives), pages 3-4; the economic and financial response (supporting the vulnerable and maintaining conditions for a strong recovery), pages 4-6; and returning to strong, sustainable balanced and inclusive growth once containment measures are lifted, pages 6-7. The action plan also reviews what is being done to provide international support to countries in need, pages 7-8, and actions needed to learn from the current pandemic, pages 8-9. Actions through multilateral organizations like the World Bank and IMF and additional actions through regional development banks provide hope for many least developed countries and many developing countries that assistance is forthcoming for each area of primary need. How successful the assistance will be will depend in part on private sector participation in debt payment deferrals and whether G20 governments increase the level of funding made available to the World Bank and IMF.

Not surprisingly, few of the actions outlined in the G20 action plan are trade specific. Most deal with the types of actions needed to help countries and territories get through the pandemic without the collapse of their economies. The focus is on financial needs. However, there is one trade specific action listed in each of the three areas reviewed.

For health – “We agree that emergency trade measures designed to tackle COVID-19, if deemed necessary, must be targeted, proportionate, transparent and temporary, and that they do not create unnecessary barriers to trade or disruption to global supply chains, and are consistent with WTO rules. We are actively working to ensure the continued flow of vital medical supplies and equipment.” Page 4.

For economic and financial response – “As agreed by Trade and Investment Ministers, we will continue to work together to deliver a free, fair, non-discriminatory, transparent, predictable and stable trade and investment environment, and to keep our markets open.” Page 5.

For returning to strong, sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth — “We look forward to work by the G20 Trade and Investment Working Group to identify, among other things, longer term actions that should be taken to support the multilateral trading system and expedite economic recovery.” Page 6.

As reviewed in prior posts, the lack of greater specificity on trade actions the G20 can agree on reflects in part the existing flexibilities within the WTO permitting governments to take trade restricting actions for certain purposes, including protecting human health. It is also the case that a number of the G20 countries (e.g., China, EU countries, India and the US) have used export restraints already as part of their response to COVID-19. In such a situation, language other than that calling for trade restrictive measures taken to be “targeted, proportionate, transparent and temporary” was unlikely to win agreement from the G20 countries as a whole.

The G20 action plan released by the finance ministers and central bank governors constitutes important ongoing steps by the G20 to provide some coordinated leadership to addressing at least certain global needs flowing from the pandemic.

IMF, OECD and FSB policy tracking tools for government actions to address COVID-19

Attachment I to the G20 Action Plan are links to policy tracking sites on the IMF and the OECD websites. The Attactment also reviews information that is available from the Financial Stability Board. Pages 11-12 describes the policy tracking sites as follows:

“The International Monetary Fund: This policy tracker summarizes the key economic responses governments are taking to limit the human and economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic as of end-March 2020. The tracker includes 193 economies. Available here: https://www.imf.org/en/Topics/imf-and-covid19/Policy-Responses-to-COVID-19.

“The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development: This series brings together policy responses spanning a large range of topics, from health to education and taxes. It is updated daily. Available here:
http://oecd.org/coronavirus/en/#country-policy-tracker.

“The Financial Stability Board: Compilation of regulatory, supervisory and other financial policy measures in response to COVID-19. Circulated to FSB members.” See, e.g., FSB, COVID-19 pandemic: Financial stability implications and policy measures taken, https://www.fsb.org/wp-content/uploads/P150420.pdf

Below is an excerpt from the IMF tracker for China:

“China, People’s Republic of

“China has been hit hard by the outbreak with over 81,865 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 3,335 deaths as of April 9, 2020 (mainland). The government imposed strict containment measures, including the extension of the national Lunar New Year holiday (ending on Feb 2 extended from Jan 30), the lockdown of Hubei province, large-scale mobility restrictions at the national level, social distancing, and a 14-day quarantine period for returning migrant workers. The domestic transmission of the virus has slowed significantly, and mobility restrictions have been largely removed. while policy has tightened to contain the virus transmission of asymptomatic cases.

“Key Policy Responses as of April 9, 2020

“FISCAL

“An estimated RMB 2.6 trillion (or 2.5 percent of GDP) of fiscal measures or
financing plans have been announced, of which 1.2 percent of GDP are
already being implemented. Key measures include: (i) Increased spending on epidemic prevention and control. (ii) Production of medical equipment. (iii) Accelerated disbursement of unemployment insurance. (iv) Tax relief and waived social security contributions. The overall fiscal expansion is expected to be significantly higher, reflecting the effect of already announced additional measures such as an increase in the ceiling for special local government bonds of 1.3 percent of GDP, improvements of the national public health emergency management system, and automatic stabilizers.

“MONETARY AND MACRO-FINANCIAL

“The PBC provided monetary policy support and acted to safeguard financial market stability. Key measures include: (i) liquidity injection into the banking system via open market operations, including RMB 3 trillion in the first half of February and 170 billion in late-March, (ii) expansion of re-lending and rediscounting facilities by RMB 1.8 trillion to support manufacturers of medical supplies and daily necessities micro-, small- and medium-sized firms and the agricultural sector at low interest rates, (iii) reduction of the 7-day and 14-day reverse repo rates by 30 and 10 bps, respectively, as well as the 1-year medium-term lending facility rate by 10 bps, (iv) targeted RRR cuts by 50-100 bps for large- and medium-sized banks that meet inclusive financing criteria which benefit smaller firms, an additional 100 bps for eligible joint-stock banks, and 100 bps for small- and medium-sized banks in April and May to support SMEs, (v) reduction of the interest on excess reserves from 72 to 35 bps, and (vi) policy banks’ credit extension to micro- and small enterprises (RMB 350 billion).

“The government has also taken multiple steps to limit tightening in financial conditions, including measured forbearance to provide financial relief to affected households, corporates, and regions facing repayment difficulties. Key measures include (i) delay of loan payments and other credit support measures for eligible SMEs and households, (ii) tolerance for higher NPLs for loans by epidemic-hit sectors and SMEs, (iii) support bond issuance by financial institutions to finance SME lending, (iv) additional financing support for corporates via increased bond issuance by corporates, (v) increased fiscal support for credit guarantees, (vi) flexibility in the implementation of the asset management reform, and (vii) easing of housing policies by local governments.

“EXCHANGE RATE AND BALANCE OF PAYMENTS

“The exchange rate has been allowed to adjust flexibly. A ceiling on crossborder financing under the macroprudential assessment framework was raised by 25 percent for banks, non-banks and enterprises.”

As noted, the IMF tracks the same type of information for 193 economies. The IMF data do not include trade-related actions by governments.

More surprising is that the OECD policy tracker doesn’t review trade-related actions since the OECD does review trade policy issues within its overall activities. In an earlier post, I had noted that the OECD indicates that it shares trade information with the WTO, but neither the WTO nor the OECD present information is as detailed and comprehensive a way as the tracking done by the IMF or done by the OECD on matters they do cover. Below is the OECD tracking information for Italy as an example of the depth of information provided for each country monitored:

“Italy Beta Updated on 17-Apr-2020

Containment measures/Quarantine/Confinement


“On April 10, the government extended the lockdown to 3 May. People can only leave the home for prescribed, essential purposes. Movement out of the municipality of residence remains prohibited.

“On March 23, movements restrictions reinforced, with fewer exceptions and a limited range of industrial and commercial activities permitted to continue operating.

“Industrial and commercial activity prohibited apart from those assessed as ‘essential’, with a list that includes about 30% of private employment and activity.

Travel bans/restrictions

“Strict travel restrictions nation-wide, reinforced from March 23 and, on April 10, were extended to May 2. These prohibit movements out of the municipality where individuals reside. Non-nationals or residents cannot enter Italy except for limited, prescribed reasons.

Closure of schools/universities

“Closure of schools and universities from March 4 until April 3, extended to at least April 14.

Cancellation of public events / Closure of public places

“- Bars and restaurants along with many other retail trade activities (e.g. shopping centres; indoor and outdoor markets) closed from March 10 until at least 14 April, and all sporting competitions suspended over the same period along with other public gatherings.

“- All but prescribed essential production activities suspended from March 23, with the list of permitted activities further limited from March 26.

“- On March 30, closures extended from April 3 to 30 April for sports, bars and similar activities.

Support measures – Health

“EUR 3.2 billion for the national health service and to support civil protection. Within this package:

“- EUR 1.4 bn to raise funding for the health care system for 2020, including EUR 845 m to recruit 20 000 more health workers.

“- Ease burden of hospitals: dedicate entire facilities to patients infected with Covid-19, while redirected non-infected patients for other facilities.

“- Increased cleaning of public transportation facilities, such as metro transit, buses, boats.

“- Measures to increase purchases and production of medical materials (masks, ventilation machines).

“- Repurposing of medical equipment and buildings (e.g. hotels) for the medical emergency.

“- The production of face masks is incentivised

“- Retired medical personnel are encouraged to come back to work

“- Smart working has been extensively favoured, both in the private and in the public sector.

Fiscal measures – overall

“EUR 25 billion of measures, including EUR 20 billion of net debt measures. 1) EUR 3.2 bn for health care and civil protection; 2) EUR 10.3 bn for employment and incomes; 3) EUR 5.1 bn support to raise liquidity for businesses and households; 4) EUR 1.6 bn tax payment support. EUR 540 m for 60% tax credit on commercial rents.

Fiscal measures – people specific

“Over EUR 10 bn allocated:

“- EUR 5.0 bn to strengthen the wage supplementation scheme for furloughed employees, and increase to a last-resort fund for workers not qualifying for these measures. This includes about EUR 1.3 bn for ordinary wage supplementation schemes, EUR 300 m for wage supplementation schemes to firms that already participate in the ‘cassa integrazione guadagni straordinaria’ supplementation scheme, and EUR 3.3 bn for firms already that already participate in of the ‘cassa integrazione in deroga’. A Last Resort scheme is established for workers not qualifying (EUR 300 m).

“- EUR 2.3 bn for one-off EUR 600 payment to various categories of self-employed and seasonal workers. A Last Resort scheme has been established for those not qualifying.

“- EUR 400 m for one-year suspension in the repayment of real estate mortgages by workers having lost their job.

“- Allowance of EUR 500 per month for up to 3 months for self-employed workers in the municipalities most affected.

“- EUR 1.3 bn to strengthen childcare support for children up to 12 years old (15 extra days at a 50% wage replacement rate, compared with 0% or 30% of the ordinary leave) or, alternatively, a EUR 600 transfer to pay childcare services.

“- EUR 30 m for EUR 1000 childcare payment to employees in the healthcare and law enforcement sectors.

“- EUR 0.5 bn to raise by 12 days the paid leave for disabled workers and workers caring for a disabled relative.

“- EUR 130 m to extend sick leave to cover days spent in quarantine.

“- EUR 900 m for a EUR 100 one-off bonus to workers who continued to work at their workplace.

“- Moratorium on debt payments, including mortgages.

“- EUR 400 m for one-year suspension in the repayment of real estate mortgages by workers having lost their job.

“- Moratorium on debt payments, including mortgages.

Fiscal measures – company specific

“- EUR 540 m for 60% tax credit on commercial rents.

“- EUR 50 m for incentives to firms to sanitise workplaces.

“- Suspension for 2 months of tax and social security payments in the municipalities most affected.

“- For firms with an annual turnover below EUR 2 m, suspension of all the tax and social security payments coming due in March (valued at EUR 10 bn in deferred payments).

“- Non-application of withholding tax for professionals without employees, with revenues below EUR 400 000 until 31 May 2020.

“- Suspension of collection of tax collection files (valued at EUR 0.6 bn).

“- EUR 50 m allocation for one-year suspension in repayment of loans to Invitalia to support SMEs in the most affected municipalities.

“- Suspension of 2 months (until end of April) in the payment of the electricity, gas, water and waste bills in the most affected municipalities.

“- Increase to EUR 1.7 bn for the Fund to provide fee-free guarantee for SMEs loans. Eligibility has been enlarged, admission fees and costs reduced. Private individuals can contribute to the SMEs Fund’s financing. Maximum guarantees raised from EUR 2.5 m to EUR 5 m.

“- Further guarantees for firms most affected by the virus. Facilitate guarantees for self-employed workers, freelancers and individual entrepreneurs.

“- Suspension of 6 months (until end of September) of loan repayment by SMEs.

“- State guarantee for up to EUR 10 bn in new loans for medium-large firms.

“- EUR 500 m to support exporting firms.

“- Incentive to sell impaired loans (NPLs) by converting deferred tax assets (DTA) into tax credits for financial and industrial companies.

“- Establishment of a Fund to support the cultural sector. Increase in advances from the 2014-2020 Development and Cohesion Fund.

“- Increase to EUR 1.7 bn for the Fund to provide fee-free guarantee for SMEs loans. Eligibility has been enlarged, admission fees and costs reduced. Private individuals can contribute to the SMEs Fund’s financing. Maximum guarantees raised from EUR 2.5 m to EUR 5 m.

“- Further guarantees for firms most affected by the virus. Facilitate guarantees for self-employed workers, freelancers and individual entrepreneurs.

– Suspension of 6 months (until end of September) of loan repayment by SMEs.

“- State guarantee for up to EUR 10 bn in new loans for medium-large firms.
Information not available.

“- Increase to EUR 1.7 bn for the Fund to provide fee-free guarantee for SMEs loans. Eligibility has been enlarged, admission fees and costs reduced. Private individuals can contribute to the SMEs Fund’s financing. Maximum guarantees raised from EUR 2.5 m to EUR 5 m.

“- Further guarantees for firms most affected by the virus. Facilitate guarantees for self-employed workers, freelancers and individual entrepreneurs.

“- Suspension of 6 months (until end of September) of loan repayment by SMEs.

“- State guarantee for up to EUR 10 bn in new loans for medium-large firms.
Information not available.

Monetary policy / Macro-prudential regulation

“Information not available

“Less significant banks and non-bank intermediaries are allowed to operate temporarily below the level of the Pillar 2 Guidance, the capital conservation buffer and the liquidity coverage ratio. Their deadline to submit their revised NPL reduction plans is postponed to 30 June. Other reporting and inspection deadlines are delayed.”

World Customs Organization Tracks Certain Trade-Related Actions Related to COVID-19

In an earlier post, I had reviewed transparency concerns in tracking trade actions related to COVID-19. As the above information shows, other international organizations (IMF and OECD) provide pretty detailed information on certain aspects of government actions related to COVID-19. While the WTO has a page dedicated to COVID-19 and has compiled a list of notifications from Members of trade actions taken (both trade restricting and trade liberalizing), the data on the WTO website are limited. The limitation flows in large part from the failure of Members to provide full notifications. As mentioned, the OECD should be able to supplement what it puts out to include information on trade actions it has access to from OECD member governments.

Similarly, the World Customs Organization compiles customs related actions taken by governments on its website. The information on India is linked to below and then embedded. http://www.wcoomd.org/-/media/wco/public/global/pdf/topics/facilitation/activities-and-programmes/natural-disaster/covid_19/best-practices_india_en.pdf?la=en.

best-practices_india_en

The International Trade Centre in Geneva has a “dashboard” that is updated daily showing COVID-19 temporary trade actions taken by governments. https://www.macmap.org/en/covid19.

It would useful if there was a compilation of trade-related actions from either the WTO or a consortium of international organizations so that there is much greater transparency on efforts (both trade restricting and trade liberalizing).

Conclusion

The COVID-19 data on confirmed cases show that the vast majority of the cases to date have been in Europe, the U.S., China and a few other countries although nearly all countries have some cases. With an unprecedented (at least in the last 100 years) pandemic, the breadth and complexity of the needs of G20 countries and the rest of the world are breathtaking. While some have criticized the G20 for the lack of specific commitments in the trade area of COVID-19 responses, the G20 Action Plan released earlier this week is an important step by the world’s major economies to address not only the health needs of the global community but also the interrelated economic survival of economies both within the G20 and around the world. While more undoubtedly needs to be done, the Action Plan is a start and will hopefully be updated and expanded in the coming weeks and months.