On February 1, 2022, the WHO released a report on the challenges posed by additional medical waste as the world responds to the COVID-19 pandemic. See World Health Organization, Global analysis of health care waste in the context of COVID-19, February 2022, https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789240039612
“Tens of thousands of tonnes of extra medical waste from the response to the COVID-19 pandemic has put tremendous strain on health care waste management systems around the world, threatening human and environmental health and exposing a dire need to improve waste management practices, according to a new WHO report.
“The WHO Global analysis of health care waste in the context of COVID-19: status, impacts and recommendations bases its estimates on the approximately 87,000 tonnes of personal protective equipment (PPE) that was procured between March 2020- November 2021 and shipped to support countries’ urgent COVID-19 response needs through a joint UN emergency initiative. Most of this equipment is expected to have ended up as waste.
“The authors note that this just provides an initial indication of the scale of the COVID-19 waste problem. It does not take into account any of the COVID-19 commodities procured outside of the initiative, nor waste generated by the public like disposable medical masks.
“They point out that over 140 million test kits, with a potential to generate 2,600 tonnes of non-infectious waste (mainly plastic) and 731,000 litres of chemical waste (equivalent to one-third of an Olympic-size swimming pool) have been shipped, while over 8 billion doses of vaccine have been administered globally producing 144,000 tonnes of additional waste in the form of syringes, needles, and safety boxes.
“As the UN and countries grappled with the immediate task of securing and quality-assuring supplies of PPE, less attention and resources were devoted to the safe and sustainable management of COVID-19 related health care waste.
“’It is absolutely vital to provide health workers with the right PPE, ‘ said Dr Michael Ryan, Executive Director, WHO Health Emergencies Programme. ‘But it is also vital to ensure that it can be used safely without impacting on the surrounding environment.’
“This means having effective management systems in place, including guidance for health workers on what to do with PPE and health commodities after they have been used.
“Today, 30% of healthcare facilities (60% in the least developed countries) are not equipped to handle existing waste loads, let alone the additional COVID-19 load. This potentially exposes health workers to needle stick injuries, burns and pathogenic microorganisms, while also impacting communities living near poorly managed landfills and waste disposal sites through contaminated air from burning waste, poor water quality or disease carrying pests.
“’COVID-19 has forced the world to reckon with the gaps and neglected aspects of the waste stream and how we produce, use and discard of our health care resources, from cradle to grave,’ said Dr Maria Neira, Director, Environment, Climate Change and Health at WHO.
“’Significant change at all levels, from the global to the hospital floor, in how we manage the health care waste stream is a basic requirement of climate-smart health care systems, which many countries committed to at the recent UN Climate Change Conference, and, of course, a healthy recovery from COVID-19 and preparedness for other health emergencies in the future.’
“The report lays out a set of recommendations for integrating better, safer, and more environmentally sustainable waste practices into the current COVID-19 response and future pandemic preparedness efforts and highlights stories from countries and organizations that have put into practice in the spirit of ‘building back better’.
“Recommendations include using eco-friendly packaging and shipping, safe and reusable PPE (e.g., gloves and medical masks), recyclable or biodegradable materials; investment in non-burn waste treatment technologies, such as autoclaves; reverse logistics to support centralized treatment and investments in the recycling sector to ensure materials, like plastics, can have a second life. (Emphasis added)
“The COVID-19 waste challenge and increasing urgency to address environmental sustainability offer an opportunity to strengthen systems to safely and sustainably reduce and manage health care waste. This can be through strong national policies and regulations, regular monitoring and reporting and increased accountability, behaviour change support and workforce development, and increased budgets and financing.
“’A systemic change in how health care manages its waste would include greater and systematic scrutiny and better procurement practices,’” said Dr Anne Woolridge, Chair of the Health Care Waste Working Group, International Solid Waste Association (ISWA).
“’There is growing appreciation that health investments must consider environmental and climate implications, as well as a greater awareness of co-benefits of action. For example, safe and rational use of PPE will not only reduce environmental harm from waste, it will also save money, reduce potential supply shortages and further support infection prevention by changing behaviours.’
“The analysis comes at a time when the health sector is under increasing pressure to reduce its carbon footprint and minimize the amount of waste being sent to landfill — in part because of the great concern about the proliferation of plastic waste and its impacts on water, food systems and human and ecosystem health.”
The importance of the report, which doesn’t account for the vast amount of medical waste from COVID in countries not procuring PPE and other products through the UN system, is reflected in a recent posting on the World Economic Forum’s webpage. See World Economic Forum, COVID-19 has caused a surge in medical waste. Here’s what needs to be done, February 17, 2022, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2022/02/medical-waste-plastic-environment-covid/.
Role for Other Multilateral Organizations and Private Sector
While the WHO obviously has a central role in working with countries to help them improve their healthcare systems including best practices in medical waste disposal, it is clear that more can and should be done to address the current situation and minimize challenges going forward from other pandemics and everyday health care needs.
For example, the IMF, World Bank, WTO and WHO meet to jointly explore ways to improve vaccination and other health care responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. See MULTILATERAL LEADERS TASK FORCE ON COVID-19 VACCINES, THERAPEUTICS, AND DIAGNOSTICS, https://www.covid19taskforce.com/en/programs/task-force-on-covid-19-vaccines. Resources from the IMF and World Bank as well as from governments and the private sector are needed to improve in-country capabilities for medical waste handling. It is not clear that the four are working jointly on funding for improved medical waste treatment as part of the Multilateral Leaders Task Force. If not they should be. Such efforts should be happening now as resources are being spent to ramp up in-country vaccination capabilities so that additional vaccinations are coupled with proper medical waste handling. In addition, those institutions and some governments have been working to increase regional production of vaccines, but there has been no discussion of similar efforts on PPE or other items where local manufacture could reduce environmental and health challenges.
Similarly, the WTO has been exploring the trade response to the pandemic (and to future pandemics). Separately, there are several plurilateral negotiations on environmental issues, including one of plastics in the oceans. The WHO report raises the question of whether the WTO trade and health discussions need to consider what, if any, additional elements could be added to help Members address medical waste. Members should also be exploring whether the plurilaterals should be expanded to take on additional aspects of the medical waste challenge.
There is much that the private sector should be doing to find solutions to the problems of growing medical waste through redesign of products to use less plastic, increase reusability of PPE products and address other aspects of the WHO recommendations.
Time will tell whether the gaps in the health care system pertaining to medical waste are addressed meaningfully or not. Let’s hope this is an area where there will be global focus and coordination.
The issue is one of importance because of the concern that many Members who have economically advanced to be fully internationally competitive or internationally competitive in significant areas of goods or services are not opening their markets to a level commensurate with their actual stage of development. A number of Members have indicated that they will not seek Special and Differential treatment in new agreements while maintaining rights under existing ones. The U.S., the EU and others have sought a more factual basis for any entitlement to differential treatment.
On November 10, 2021, Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala addressed the WTO Committee on Trade and Development (“CTD”) See WTO News Release, “Development issues should be at the heart of work at the WTO“— DG Okonjo-Iweala, 10 November 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/devel_10nov21_e.htm. The press release starts with an overview of the importance of development in the overall WTO mission,
“Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala highlighted the key role that trade plays in economic development during a meeting of the WTO’s Committee on Trade and Development (CTD) on 10 November. She stressed that development is a priority for the WTO and that the CTD plays an important role in addressing the development dimension in the multilateral trading system.
“DG Okonjo-Iweala stressed that the work of the WTO is important for developing and least developed countries (LDCs), hence, it is critical for the WTO to deliver on issues of importance to them. Trade is a significant driver for economic growth and poverty reduction and ultimately for development, she added.”
The press release later has a statement that “The Secretariat presented the findings of its latest report concerning the participation of developing economies in global trade.” The latest report is PARTICIPATION OF DEVELOPING ECONOMIES IN THE GLOBAL TRADING SYSTEM, NOTE BY THE SECRETARIAT, 28 October 2021, WT/COMTD/W/262.
The problem with the note from the Secretariat and the functioning of the Committee on Trade and Development and other aspects of the WTO work is that developing countries in the note is treated as all Members so designating themselves and hence provides little useful information on the role of countries in actual need of assistance. Data in the note is skewed by information on developing Asia — an area that includes China, Singapore, the Republic of Korea and Chinese Taipei (Taiwan). On pages 8-9 of the Secretariat note, the major “developing” country traders are reviewed. The top 15 developing country exporters in 2020 were Chins (34.0%), Republic of Korea (6.7%), Mexico (5.5%), Singapore (4.8%), Chinese Taipei (4.6%), United Arab Emirates (4.2%), Viet Nam (3.7%), India (3.6%), Malaysia (3.1%), Thailand (3.0%), Brazil (2.8%), Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (2.3%), Turkey (2.2%), Indonesia (2.1%), South Africa (1.1%), other (16.4%). The top 15 importer developing countries included all of the top exporters with the exception of South Africa (Hong Kong, China was the 15th largest importer).
The World Bank provides Gross National Income per capita for most countries/territories (China blocks provision of data for Chinese Taipei). The latest data are for 2020 and include the following ranges for the four categories of World Bank countries:
high income economies, $12,696 or more/capita GNI.
China in 2020 had a per capita GNI of $10,610; Singapore had a 2020 per capita GNI of $54,920; Republic of Korea had a 2020 per capita GNI of $32,860; Chinese Taipei had a per capita GDP in 2021 of $33,402; Mexico had a 2020 per capita GNI of 8,480; the United Arab Republic had a 2019 per capita GNI of $43,470; the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia had a 2020 per capita GNI of $21,930; Hong Kong, China, had a 2020 per capita GNI of $48,630; Thailand had a 2020 per capita GNI of $7,050; Malaysia had a 2020 per capita GNI of $11,230; Turkey had a 2020 per capita GNI of $9,030; Brazil had a 2020 per capita GNI of $7,850.
There is obviously no justification in high income economies receiving special and differential treatment as though they are developing countries in fact. Thus, data for Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong, UAE, Saudi Arabia shouldn’t be in the developing country data base. Similarly, China and Malaysia with per capita GNIs above $10,000 and purchasing power parity gross national income per capita (2019) above the minimum high income economy threshold ($16,790 for China; $28,830 for Malaysia) shouldn’t be eligible for special and differential treatment as a general rule. Brazil, Thailand, Turkey and Mexico while below $10,000 per capita GNI in 2020 have 2019 per capita purchasing power parity GNI higher than the high income economy threshold ($14,890 for Brazil; $26,840 for Mexico; $18,570 for Thailand; $27,660). There is no apparent logic in having these countries have automatic rights to special and differential treatment.
The Secretariat, of course, cannot change the classification of Members. But the lack of a rational standard for determining appropriateness of receiving special and differential treatment undermines the functioning of the WTO and permits countries who have succeeded at rapid economic development from assuming full obligations of WTO membership. The problem also results in statistical reports that are largely meaningless.
In a consensus based system like the WTO, the road to rationality will be long at best with many WTO Members who should have accepted full obligations by now continuing to hide behind the self-selection process to claim lesser obligations.
While the release indicates that there will be delays in deliveries of vaccines in March and April because of increased COVID-19 cases in India, developments in India could mean an even greater delay in supplies than announced in March. For example, the major supplier of vaccines to COVAX in the first half of 2021 is the Serum Institute of India (“SII”) which is licensed by AstraZeneca to produce that vaccine in India for distribution in large part to COVAX. Yesterday, the president of SII indicated that export shipments could resume in June depending on cases levels in India. See Financial Times, India to restart Covid vaccine exports in June if local cases fall, April 7, 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/fcdffb8f-f86e-4bd9-adec-20256aeb0a07. It doesn’t appear that SII has notified COVAX of a further delay past April, but a June resumption, if it occurs, suggests that delays will continue through May at a minimum.
While COVAX is looking to expand sources of vaccines, SII is the major source through June. Professor Simon Evenett has put out a one page analysis of the implications for supply to COVAX from SII if the resumption of exports is premised on India fully vaccinating all those willing to be vaccinated for whom the government of India has opened up vaccinations. While SII has not stated that resumption of exports is tied to full vaccination of Indians who are 45 years or older, Prof. Evenett’s paper is an interesting analysis of how long a delay could occur in terms of SII becoming a major exporter again. His paper entitled “Vaccine Maths 2: Will India start exporting COVID-19 vaccines again in June 2021?” is embedded below.
With the spread of the new variants of COVID-19 that have higher rates of transmission and higher rates of serious infection, many countries find themselves facing increased numbers of cases and increased hospitalizations and deaths even as vaccine supplies are increasing and vaccination roll outs starting in many countries. There is a lot of attention within multilateral organizations such as the World Bank, IMF and WTO and by a number of countries on the needs for increased production and distribution to all countries. See, e.g., April 6, 2021, IMF April World Economic Outlook, IMF and World Bank Spring Meetings and U.S. efforts on global access to vaccines, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/04/06/imf-april-world-economic-outlook-imf-and-world-bank-spring-meetings-and-u-s-efforts-on-global-access-to-vaccines/. COVAX is an important part of the solution but it will need more funding and greater diversity of suppliers to meets its role in the equitable and affordable access to vaccines in 2021 and 2022.
“Global prospects remain highly uncertain one year into the pandemic. New virus mutations and the accumulating human toll raise concerns, even as growing vaccine coverage lifts sentiment. Economic recoveries are diverging across countries and sectors, reflecting variation in pandemic-induced disruptions and the extent of policy support. The outlook depends not just on the outcome of the battle between the virus and vaccines—it also hinges on how effectively economic policies deployed under high uncertainty can limit lasting damage from this unprecedented crisis.
“Global growth is projected at 6 percent in 2021, moderating to 4.4 percent in 2022. The projections for 2021 and 2022 are stronger than in the October 2020 WEO. The upward revision reflects additional fiscal support in a few large economies, the anticipated vaccine-powered recovery in the second half of 2021, and continued adaptation of economic activity to subdued mobility. High uncertainty surrounds this outlook, related to the path of the pandemic, the effectiveness of policy support to provide a bridge to vaccine-powered normalization, and the evolution of financial conditions.”
The following tables from the IMF webpage taken from the new report show first the global, advanced economies and developing economy outlook for 2020, 2021, 2022 and then for various major countries and regions for the same periods.
Much has been written about the need for debt relief and greater access to vaccines for many low-income countries to help them get through the pandemic and back on track for economic expansion. The IMFBlog from April 5, 2021 provides an overview of the serious challenges faced by low income countries and the potential sources of financial support available through the IMF if supported by member countries. See IMFBlog, Funding the Recovery of Low-income Countries After COVID, April 5, 2021, https://blogs.imf.org/2021/04/05/funding-the-recovery-of-low-income-countries-after-covid/.
“Several factors hamper the economic recovery of low-income countries. First, they face uneven access to vaccines. Most of these countries rely almost entirely on the multilateral COVAX facility—a global initiative aimed at equitable access to vaccines led by a consortium of international organizations. COVAX is currently set to procure vaccines for just 20 percent of the population in low-income countries. Second, low-income countries have had limited policy space to respond to the crisis—in particular, they have lacked the means for extra spending * * *.
“Third, pre-existing vulnerabilities, including high levels of public debt in many low-income countries, and weak, sometimes negative, total factor productivity performance in some low-income countries continue to act as a drag on growth.”
The blog post reviews estimated financial needs over the next five years. The estimated needs are $200 billion to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic (including adequate vaccinations), an additional $250 billion to speed convergence with advanced economies, and an additional $100 billion if various risks materialized. Potentially $550 billion — obviously a huge number.
The blog identifies various potential sources of funds to address these needs that can be available through the IMF.
“- Expanding access to concessional resources under the Poverty Reduction and Growth Trust, including extending access to emergency financing. From March 2020 to March 2021, about $13 billion has been approved to more than 50 low-income countries. The IMF is also currently reviewing its lending framework to low-income countries, beyond the temporary increase in access limits.
“- Proposal for a new allocation of Special Drawing Rights . Support is building among the IMF’s membership for a possible SDR allocation of $650 billion. This would help address the long-term global need for reserve assets, and would provide a substantial liquidity boost to all members.
“- Debt service relief through the Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust to 29 eligible countries. The recently-approved third tranche covering the period April-October 2021 brings total debt service relief up to $740 million since April 2020. Such relief provides space for poor countries to scale up spending on priority areas during the pandemic.
“- Supporting a further extension of the G-20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) until end-December 2021. The DSSI delivered US$5.7 billion in debt service relief for 43 countries in 2020 and is expected to deliver up to US$7.3 billion of additional debt service suspension through June 2021 for 45 countries.
“The needs of the poorest countries over the next five years are acute. But they are not out of reach. A strong, coordinated, comprehensive package is needed. This will secure a rapid recovery and transition to a green, digital, and inclusive growth that will accelerate convergence of low-income countries to their advanced economy counterparts.”
“COVID-19 vaccines, alongside widespread testing, improved treatment and strong health systems are critical to save lives and strengthen the global economic recovery. To provide relief for vulnerable populations, low- and middle-income countries need fair, broad, and fast access to effective and safe vaccines.
“That’s why the World Bank (WB) is building on its initial COVID-19 response with $12 billion to help poor countries purchase and distribute vaccines, tests, and treatments. The first WB-financed operation to support vaccine rollout was approved in January 2021.
“By March 31, 2021, the WB had already committed $1.6 billion in vaccine financing in 10 countries including Afghanistan, Cabo Verde, Bangladesh, Lebanon, Mongolia, Nepal, Philippines, Tajikistan, and Tunisia. More than 40 additional projects are in the pipeline and will be approved in the coming weeks and months.”
The World Banks’s Spring meeting is also occurring this week and addressing the COVID-19 pandemic remains a critical part of the World Bank’s agenda.
U.S. announced larger role in global vaccine rollout
President Biden has had as his first priority to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States while committing to greater involvement in multilateral organizations. He has rejoined the World Health Organization, contributed $2 billion to the COVAX facility to obtain vaccines for low- and middle-income countries, with an additional $2 billion to be contributed as other countries fulfill their pledges, agreed to a fund raising event for COVAX later in April, loaned four million vaccine doses to Canada (1.5 million) and Mexico (2.5 million) and agreed with Japan, India and Australia to produce one billion doses of a vaccine (2021-2022) in India with funding from the US and Japan and distribution by Australia to countries in the Indo-Pacific region.
On April 5, 2021, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the Biden Administration’s intention to be more actively involved internationally as it gets the U.S. population vaccinated. See U.S. Department of State, Secretary Antony J. Blinken Remarks to the Press on the COVID Response, April 5, 2021, https://www.state.gov/secretary-antony-j-blinken-remarks-to-the-press-on-the-covid-response/. The portion of Secretary Blinken’s remarks dealing with greater international engagement and the appointment of the U.S. coordinator for global COVID response and health security is copied below.
“There’s another major element to stopping COVID, and that’s what we’re here to talk about today.
“This pandemic won’t end at home until it ends worldwide.
“And I want to spend a minute on this, because it’s critical to understand. Even if we vaccinate all 332 million people in the United States tomorrow, we would still not be fully safe from the virus, not while it’s still replicating around the world and turning into new variants that could easily come here and spread across our communities again. And not if we want to fully reopen our economy or start traveling again. Plus, if other countries’ economies aren’t rebounding because they’re still afflicted with COVID, that’ll hurt our recovery too.
“The world has to come together to bring the COVID pandemic to an end everywhere. And for that to happen, the United States must act and we must lead.
“There is no country on Earth that can do what we can do, both in terms of developing breakthrough vaccines and bringing governments, businesses, and international institutions together to organize the massive, sustained public health effort it’ll take to fully end the pandemic. This will be an unprecedented global operation, involving logistics, financing, supply chain management, manufacturing, and coordinating with community health workers who handle the vital last mile of health care delivery. All of that will take intensive diplomacy.
“The world has never done anything quite like this before. This is a moment that calls for American leadership.
“Now, the Biden-Harris administration’s main focus to date has been to vaccinate Americans – to slow and ultimately stop COVID here at home. We at the State Department have been focused on vaccinating our workforce in the United States and in embassies and consulates around the world. That’s been the right call. We serve the American people first and foremost. Plus, we can’t forget that the United States has had the highest number of COVID cases of any country in the world by a significant margin. So stopping the spread here has been urgently needed for our people and for the world. We have a duty to other countries to get the virus under control here in the United States.
“But soon, the United States will need to step up our work and rise to the occasion worldwide, because again, only by stopping COVID globally will Americans be safe for the long term.
“Moreover, we want to rise to the occasion for the world. By helping bring to a close one of the deadliest pandemics in human history, we can show the world once again what American leadership and American ingenuity can do. Let’s make that the story of the end of COVID-19.
“We’ve already taken some important steps.
“On day one of the administration, we rejoined the World Health Organization. By being at the table, we can push for reforms so that we can prevent, detect, and rapidly respond to the next biological threat.
“Congress recently provided more than $11 billion for America’s global COVID response, which we’ll use in several ways, including to save lives by supporting broad and equitable vaccine access; providing aid to mitigate secondary impacts of COVID, like hunger; and helping countries boost their pandemic preparedness.
“I’d note that this builds on a long tradition of American leadership. The United States is the world’s largest donor to global health by far, including through international efforts like the Global Fund and the World Health Organization – and through our own outstanding global health programs, like PEPFAR, which has helped bring the world to the cusp of the first AIDS-free generation.
“We’ve also made a $2 billion donation to the COVAX program, which will supply COVID vaccines to low-income and middle-income countries. We’ve pledged another $2 billion that we’ll provide as other countries fulfill their own pledges.
“We’ve already loaned vaccines to our closest neighbors, Mexico and Canada.
“And we’ll work with global partners on manufacturing and supplies to ensure there will be enough vaccine for everyone, everywhere.
“As we get more confident in our vaccine supply here at home, we are exploring options to share more with other countries going forward.
“We believe that we’ll be in a position to do much more on this front.
“I know that many countries are asking for the United States to do more, some with growing desperation because of the scope and scale of their COVID emergencies. We hear you. And I promise, we’re moving as fast as possible.
“We’ll be guided every step by core values.
“We won’t trade shots in arms for political favors. This is about saving lives.
“We’ll treat our partner countries with respect; we won’t overpromise and underdeliver.
“We’ll maintain high standards for the vaccines that we help to bring to others, only distributing those proven to be safe and effective.
“We’ll insist on an approach built on equity. COVID has already come down hard on vulnerable and marginalized people. We cannot allow our COVID response to end up making racial and gender inequality worse.
“We’ll embrace partnership, sharing the burden and combining strengths. The collaboration we formed a few weeks ago with the Quad countries – India, Japan, Australia – is a good example. Together, we’re increasing the world’s manufacturing capacity so we can get more shots out the door and into people’s arms as fast as possible.
“And by the way, one of the reasons we work through multilateral collaborations where possible is because they often share and defend these same values. For example, the COVAX initiative is designed explicitly to ensure that low- and middle-income countries can also get vaccines, because it’s only through broad and equitable vaccination that we’ll end the pandemic.
“Finally, we’ll address the current emergency while also taking the long view. We can’t just end this pandemic. We must also leave our country and the world better prepared for the next one.
“To do that, we’ll work with partners to reform and strengthen the institutions and systems that safeguard global health security. That will require countries to commit to transparency, information sharing, access for international experts in real time. We’ll need a sustainable approach to financing, surge capacity, and accountability, so all countries can act quickly to stem the next outbreak. And we’ll keep pushing for a complete and transparent investigation into the origins of this epidemic, to learn what happened – so it doesn’t happen again.
“All told, this work is a key piece of President Biden’s ‘Build Back Better’ agenda. We’ve got to make sure that we can better detect, prevent, prepare for, and respond to future pandemics and other biological threats. Otherwise, we’ll be badly letting ourselves and future generations down.
“This is a pivotal moment – a time for us to think big and act boldly. And the United States will rise to the challenge.
“I’m here today with a remarkable leader who will help us do just that.
“Gayle Smith was the administrator of USAID for President Obama, and served on the National Security Council for both President Obama and President Clinton, where we first got to know each other and worked together. She has deep experience in responding to public health threats, having helped lead the U.S. response to the Ebola crisis in 2014, having worked for years on the global fights against malaria, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS. She is joining us from her most recent role as president and CEO of the ONE Campaign, which fights extreme poverty and preventable disease, primarily in Africa.
“She’s tested. She’s highly respected. She will hit the ground running. And I can say from having worked with Gayle and admired her for years that no one will work harder, faster, or more effectively to get us to the finish line.
I”’m grateful she’s agreed to serve as the coordinator for global COVID response and health security. Gayle Smith, the floor is yours. Thank you for doing this.
“MS SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. It’s a pleasure to be able to work with you again, and to call you Mr. Secretary.
“I’d also like to thank my friends at the ONE Campaign for making this possible. And I look forward to working with the men and women of the department and across the federal government, including because I know what you can do.
“I want to thank in particular some really smart scientists, President Biden, and the staff and volunteers at Howard University, where tomorrow I will get my second dose of the COVID vaccine.
“That vaccine is good for the body, but it’s also good for the mind and the soul, because it inspires hope in the future. And our job is to shape that future.
“I fought some viruses in the past, and I’ve learned two lessons. The first is that if the virus is moving faster than we are, it’s winning. The second is that with unity of purpose, science, vigilance, and leadership, we can outpace any virus.
“America’s done it before. Eighteen years ago, a Republican president launched a bold initiative to take on the HIV/AIDS epidemic. A Democratic president went on to expand that mission in scope. In 2014, the Obama-Biden administration, with the strong and generous support of Congress, defeated the world’s first Ebola epidemic.
“Our challenges now are two: first, to shorten the lifespan of a borderless pandemic that is destroying lives and livelihoods all over the world, and the second is to ensure that we can prevent, detect, and respond to those future global health threats we know are coming.
“American leadership is desperately needed, and I’m extremely confident we can rise to the occasion. I’m honored to be here, and thank you very, very much.”
This is an important week with both the IMF and World Bank Spring meetings and important agenda items on the continued global response to the pandemic and helping countries build back better. The IMF April World Economic Outlook has good news about the direction of global activity although the pace of recoveries will vary significantly among countries and regions. While global production and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines has ramped up enormously in the few months that vaccines have been approved and while there are many additional potential vaccines under development or in trials, the early months have seen some production challenges and distribution skewed to a handful of countries. Many of those countries with the most vaccine doses (U.S., UK, EU, India) have been countries or regions with many of the largest number of infections and deaths. Even so, the effort at equitable and affordable access to all needs additional work.
An article in the New York Times reviews an exciting potential development of a low-cost, easy to produce vaccine that could dramatically expand the ability of developing countries to produce their own vaccines. See New York Times, Researchers Are Hatching a Low-Cost Coronavirus Vaccine , April 5, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/05/health/hexapro-mclellan-vaccine.html (“A new vaccine for Covid-19 that is entering clinical trials in Brazil, Mexico, Thailand and Vietnam could change how the world fights the pandemic. The vaccine, called NVD-HXP-S, is the first in clinical trials to use a new molecular design that is widely expected to create more potent antibodies than the current generation of vaccines. And the new vaccine could be far easier to make. Existing vaccines from companies like Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson must be produced in specialized factories using hard-to-acquire ingredients. In contrast, the new vaccine can be mass-produced in chicken eggs — the same eggs that produce billions of influenza vaccines every year in factories around the world.”).
Production is ramping up for the various vaccines that have been approved in various countries. Producers continue to explore adding capacity or licensing production to other producers. Governments – like the United States, Japan, India and Australia – are finding creative ways for nations to work together to build up additional capacity to reach countries with needs. COVAX has proven to be an important vehicle for distributing vaccines to low- and middle-income countries. As capacities expand and additional funding is available, COVAX will continue to be a critical part of the solution.
The IMF and World Bank have the ability to address many of the challenges facing developing countries with the support of its member governments. Hopefully, this week’s meetings will make a difference. And individual countries can and are doing more. Secretary Blinken’s remarks show the U.S. will be increasing its role and working with others to ensure global success. For a world fatigued from the pandemic, a path to resolution is needed now. Hopefully, we are close.
The World Bank’s President David Malpass in a February 1st posting on Voices flagged the challenges for many of the world’s poorest people flowing from the COVID-19 pandemic — higher food prices, greater hunger, more people pushed into extreme poverty. See World Bank blog,COVID crisis is fueling food price rises for world’s poorest, February 1, 2021, https://blogs.worldbank.org/voices/covid-crisis-fueling-food-price-rises-worlds-poorest. The post was originally published in the Guardian. The post is copied in its entirety below (emphasis in the original webpost).
“Global food prices, as measured by a World Bank food price index, rose 14% last year. Phone surveys conducted periodically by the World Bank in 45 countries show significant percentages of people running out of food or reducing their consumption. With the situation increasingly dire, the international community can take three key actions in 2021 to increase food security and help prevent a larger toll on human capital.
“The first priority is enabling the free flow of food. To avoid artificial shortages and price spikes, food and other essential goods must flow as freely as possible across borders. Early in the pandemic, when perceived shortages and panic generated threats of export bans, the international community helped keep food trade flows open. Credible and transparent information about the state of global food inventories – which were at comfortable levels pre-COVID – along with unequivocal free-trade statements from the G20, World Trade Organization, and regional cooperation bodies helped reassure traders, and led to helpful policy responses. Special rules for agriculture, food workers and transport corridors restored supply chains that had been briefly disrupted within countries.
“We need to remain vigilant and avoid backsliding into export restrictions and hardened borders that make food – and other essentials – scarce or more costly.
“The second priority is bolstering social safety nets. Short-term social safety nets offer a vital cushion for families hit by the health and economic crises. In Ethiopia, for example, households that experienced problems in satisfying their food needs initially increased by 11.7 percentage points during the pandemic, but participants in our long-running Productive Safety Net program were shielded from most of the negative effects.
“The world has mounted an unprecedented social protection response to COVID-19. Cash transfers are now reaching 1.1 billion people, and innovative delivery mechanisms are rapidly identifying and reaching new groups, such as informal urban workers. But ‘large scale’ is not synonymous with ‘adequate’. In a review of COVID-19 social response programs, cash transfer programs were found to be:
“–Short-term in their duration – lasting just over three months on average
“–Small in value – an average of $6 (£4.30) per capita in low-income countries
“–Limited in scope – with many in need remaining uncovered
“The pandemic has reinforced the vital imperative of increasing the world’s investments in social protection systems. Additional measures to expedite cash transfers, particularly via digital means, would also play an important role in reducing malnutrition.
“A warming planet is contributing to costlier and more frequent extreme weather events. And as people pack into low-quality housing in urban slums or vulnerable coastal areas, more are living in the path of disease and climate disaster.
“Development gains can be wiped out in the blink of an eye. Our experience with hurricanes or seismic events shows that it is more effective to invest in prevention, before a catastrophe strikes. That’s why countries need adaptive social protection programs – programs that are connected to food security early warning systems and can be scaled up in anticipation of shocks.
“The time is long overdue to shift to practices that safeguard and increase food and nutrition security in ways that will endure. The to-do list is long and urgent. We need sustained financing for approaches that prioritize human, animal and planetary health; restore landscapes and diversify crops to improve nutrition; reduce food loss and waste; strengthen agricultural value chains to create jobs and recover lost incomes; and deploy effective climate-smart agriculture techniques on a much greater scale.
“The World Bank Group and partners are ready to help countries reform their agriculture and food policies and redeploy public finance to foster a green, inclusive, and resilient recovery.
Food insecurity is an issue for all countries although most pressing for the poorest countries
The challenges noted by the World Bank President also face most other countries. For example, in the United States, there has been a massive increase in the number of people getting food from food banks and estimates are that one in seven Americans needs food assistance. Feeding America, The Impact of Coronavirus on Food Insecurity, October 2020, https://www.feedingamerica.org/research/coronavirus-hunger-research (“Combining analyses at the national, state, county, and congressional district levels, we show how the number of people who are food insecure in 2020 could rise to more than 50 million, including 17 million children.”) The challenges for schools not being able to have in school education has complicated the challenge in the United States as millions of children receive food from their schools but need alternative sources when schools are not able to provide in school classes. See, e.g., Brookings Institution, Hungry at Thanksgiving: A Fall 2020 update on food insecurity in the U.S., November 23, 2020, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2020/11/23/hungry-at-thanksgiving-a-fall-2020-update-on-food-insecurity-in-the-u-s/ (reviews the increase in food insecurity and the various safety net programs in the U.S. attempting to address).
World Trade Organization involvement in addressing the problem
The World Trade Organization is directly involved in addressing the first priority identified by World Bank President Malpass — enabling the free flow of food. However, the WTO also monitors government support efforts and has the ability to be tackling trade and environment issues which could affect the third priority by reducing climate change.
WTO Members under WTO rules can impose export restraints under certain circumstances and in the first half of 2020, a number of members imposed export restraints on particular agricultural products and many imposed export restraints on certain medical goods. At the same time, the lockdown of countries had significant effects on the movement of goods and people. Many WTO Members have urged limiting such restraints and the WTO Secretariat has monitored both restraints imposed, when such restraints have been lifted (if they have), and trade liberalization efforts to speed the movement of important goods. See, e.g., WTO, COVID-19 and world trade, https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/covid19_e/covid19_e.htm; WTO, COVID-19 AND AGRICULTURE: A STORY OF RESILIENCE, INFORMATION NOTE, 26 August 2020, https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/covid19_e/agric_report_e.pdf; WTO, COVID-19: Measures affecting trade in goods, updated as of 1 February 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/covid19_e/trade_related_goods_measure_e.htm. The August paper on COVIDE-19 and Agriculture is embedded below.
There have been a number of proposals by certain WTO Members to forego export restraints on agricultural products during the pandemic. None have been acted upon by the membership as a whole, but the communications often reflect commitments of certain Members to keep agricultural markets open during the pandemic. See, e.g., RESPONDING TO THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC WITH OPEN AND PREDICTABLE TRADE IN AGRICULTURAL AND FOOD PRODUCTS, STATEMENT FROM: AUSTRALIA; BRAZIL; CANADA; CHILE; COLOMBIA; COSTA RICA; ECUADOR; EUROPEAN UNION; GEORGIA; HONG KONG, CHINA; JAPAN; REPUBLIC OF KOREA; MALAWI; MALAYSIA; MEXICO; NEW ZEALAND; NICARAGUA; PARAGUAY; PERU; QATAR; KINGDOM OF SAUDI ARABIA; SINGAPORE; SWITZERLAND; THE SEPARATE CUSTOMS TERRITORY OF TAIWAN, PENGHU, KINMEN AND MATSU; UKRAINE; UNITED ARAB EMIRATES; UNITED KINGDOM; UNITED STATES; AND URUGUAY, WT/GC/208/Rev.2, G/AG/30/Rev.2, 29 May 2020. The document is embedded below.
More can and should be done, including a WTO-wide agreement to forego agricultural export restraints during the current pandemic or future pandemics. However, there are strong objections to any such limits from a number of WTO Members including large and important countries like China, India and South Africa.
Indeed, efforts to get agreement at the December 2020 General Council meeting that countries would not block agricultural exports to the UN’s World Food Programme for humanitarian purposes was blocked by a number of countries. While 79 WTO Members in January 2021 provided a joint pledge not to prevent agricultural exports to the UN World Food Programme, it is a sign of the sensitivity of food security to many countries that a very limited humanitarian proposal could not obtain the agreement of all WTO Members in a period of hightened need by many of the world’s poorest countries. See January 23, 2021, WTO and the World Food Programme – action by 79 Members after a failed December effort at the General Council, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/01/23/wto-and-the-world-food-programme-action-by-79-members-after-a-failed-december-effort-at-the-general-council/.
The COVID-19 pandemic has extracted a huge cost from the world economy, has pushed tens of millions of people into extreme poverty, has cost hundreds of millions people employment (full or partial), is complicating the education of the world’s children with likely long lasting effects, has exposed potential challenges to achieving global cooperation on a range of matters including the desirability of limiting or not imposing export restraints on agricultural and medical goods.
While the focus of countries and the media in the last several months has shifted to access to vaccines and ensuring greater equitable distribution of such vaccines at affordable prices, there remains much that needs to be done to better address food insecurity during the pandemic. International organizations like the World Bank, IMF and WTO, countries, businesses and NGOs need to se that both core issues are addressed in the coming months.
“Global services trade in the third quarter of 2020 fell 24% compared to the same period in 2019, according to statistics released by the WTO on 26 January. This represents only a small uptick from the 30% year-on-year decline registered in the second quarter, in marked contrast to the much stronger rebound in goods trade.
“Preliminary data further suggest that, in November, services trade was still 16% below 2019 levels. Prospects for recovery remain poor since a second wave of COVID-19 infections necessitated new, stricter lockdown measures in many countries, with tightened restrictions on travel and related services extending into the first quarter of 2021.
“The latest statistics confirm earlier expectations that services trade would be harder hit by the pandemic than goods trade, which was only down 5% year-on-year in the third quarter. Foregone expenditures on tradeable services could be directed elsewhere, with consumers shifting to goods instead.”
Travel services in the third quarter were down 68% from the third quarter of 2019, a slight improvement from the 2nd quarter (down more than 80%). Transport services were down 24% in the third quarter while other services were down 2%.
With new lockdowns and travel restrictions occurring in the first quarter of 2021, the travel and tourism sector (including air, hotel, restaurant, entertainment sectors) is in for a continued difficult 2021 (at least the first half for some developed countries depending on vaccination staging).
In an update to its World Economic Outlook released earlier this week, the IMF noted that while global economic growth in 2021 and 2022 is expected to be somewhat stronger than previously projected, the level of growth is dependent on vaccine availability and vaccinations and whether there is widespread availability to peoples of the world. See IMF, World Economic Outlook Update, January 2021, https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/WEO/Issues/2021/01/26/2021-world-economic-outlook-update. The header and first three paragraphs of the update are copied below.
“Policy Support and Vaccines Expected to Lift Activity
“Although recent vaccine approvals have raised hopes of a turnaround in the pandemic later this year, renewed waves and new variants of the virus pose concerns for the outlook. Amid exceptional uncertainty, the global economy is projected to grow 5.5 percent in 2021 and 4.2 percent in 2022. The 2021 forecast is revised up 0.3 percentage point relative to the previous forecast, reflecting expectations of a vaccine-powered strengthening of activity later in the year and additional policy support in a few large economies.
“The projected growth recovery this year follows a severe collapse in 2020 that has had acute adverse impacts on women, youth, the poor, the informally employed, and those who work in contact-intensive sectors. The global growth contraction for 2020 is estimated at -3.5 percent, 0.9 percentage point higher than projected in the previous forecast (reflecting stronger-than-expected momentum in the second half of 2020).
“The strength of the recovery is projected to vary significantly across countries, depending on access to medical interventions, effectiveness of policy support, exposure to cross-country spillovers, and structural characteristics entering the crisis.”
On the IMF webpage for the update there is a colored chart showing projected growth for certain groupings of countries. The Chart is embedded below.
At the same time, Africa which had recorded relatively few cases and deaths from COVID-19 for much of 2020 is now experiencing significant increases in both which is overwhelming health systems in some areas. Financial Times, Coronavirus second wave surges across Africa, Mildly hit the first time round, the continent’s death rate has now overtaken the global average, 17 January 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/3d000093-87a3-48f3-8bb5-4ad9a8316aa1
The COVAX facility designed to help many countries (including many poor countries) access vaccines has a significant funding shortfall at present despite the U.S. rescinding its notice of withdrawal from the WHO and its agreement to participate in COVAX. Reuters, U.S. alone won’t fill COVAX funding gap, lead official says, January 22, 2021,https://news.trust.org/item/20210122130041-jr1j3. The Secretary-General of the World Health Organization has expressed concern that the world will fail to make vaccines available to all at affordable prices in a timely manner. WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Debate on the report “COVID-19 vaccines: ethical, legal and practical considerations,” 27 January 2021, https://www.who.int/director-general/speeches/detail/debate-on-the-report-covid-19-vaccines-ethical-legal-and-practical-considerations. The WHO Director-General’s speech is embedded below.
“A study commissioned by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) Research Foundation has found that the global economy stands to lose as much as US$9.2 trillion if governments fail to ensure developing economy access to COVID-19 vaccines
“The COVID-19 pandemic had a devastating effect on both lives and livelihoods in 2020. The arrival of effective vaccines can be a major game changer in mitigating the economic, social and health consequences of the virus in the year ahead.
“However, evidence to date suggests that access to these vaccines is likely to be highly uneven across countries. Advanced economies have in recent months pursued a policy of securing the global supply of frontrunner vaccines – as a result severely limiting their availability in emerging markets. Moreover, the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator – the proven global platform to enable equitable access to COVID-19 test, treatments and vaccines – remains underfunded by the world’s largest economies, constraining its ability to procure vaccines at scale for the developing world.
“A new study highlights the major risks to the global economy inherent in this uncoordinated approach to vaccine access. Using a sophisticated model – that builds upon an earlier NBER and IMF Working Paper – to properly the assess the economic toll of a prolonged pandemic, the research shows that no economy can recover fully from the COVID-19 pandemic until vaccines are equally accessible in all countries.
“In short, advanced economies that can vaccinate all of their citizens are shown to remain at risk of a sluggish recovery with a drag on GDP if infection continues to spread unabated in emerging markets. These losses dwarf the donor finance needed to enable vaccines to be procured for everyone, everywhere – making a clear ‘investment case’ for full capitalization of the ACT Accelerator and a coordinated global approach to distribution.”
While the recent releases from the WTO and IMF show somewhat better rebounds from the effects of the pandemic in the third quarter of 2020 (WTO) and into 2021 and 2022 (IMF), the key to global recovery lies in the approval of effective vaccines and the equitable and affordable distribution and vaccinations of populations around the world. Major advanced economies, many suffering from high infection and death rates in 2020, are using their financial muscle to secure contracts to deal with getting the pandemic under control within their borders. While there has been extensive work to create a mechanism to get vaccines to other countries in 2021 and 2022, there remain funding needs and questions about whether vaccines will in fact be available for use for these other countries. A lot depends on the efforts to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines to all those in need. There is a large opportunity for governments, businesses, and private organizations and citizens to help fill the gap. Because the failure to do so carries a likely huge cost, making sure funds are available to get the world vaccinated is in everyone’s interest. The outcome will determine global growth rates and trade flows for the coming years.
The last forecast by the WTO for international merchandise trade for 2020 projected a decline of 9.2% for the world reflecting significant improvements in the 3rd quarter of 2020 after the sharp contraction in the second quarter. Services trade is trailing merchandise trade significantly as is reflected in the WTO ‘s December 4, 2020 press release, Electronics and automotive products lift global merchandise trade in Q3, services lag behind, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/stat_04dec20_e.htm. Two charts from the press release show data through the third quarter of 2020 for goods and services and are copied below.
The expected continued rebound in the fourth quarter of 2020 has likely been reduced in size by the large increase in COVID-19 cases in many countries, including the European Union, United Kingdom, the United States and some countries in Asia and reintroduction of restrictions on people in those countries, resulting in downward pressure on domestic consumption (and hence trade flows in both goods and services).
“Development risks remain as economic activity, incomes likely to stay low for extended period
“WASHINGTON, Jan. 5, 2021 — The global economy is expected to expand 4% in 2021, assuming an initial COVID-19 vaccine rollout becomes widespread throughout the year. A recovery, however, will likely be subdued, unless policy makers move decisively to tame the pandemic and implement investment-enhancing reforms, the World Bank says in its January 2021 Global Economic Prospects.
“Although the global economy is growing again after a 4.3% contraction in 2020, the pandemic has caused a heavy toll of deaths and illness, plunged millions into poverty, and may depress economic activity and incomes for a prolonged period. Top near-term policy priorities are controlling the spread of COVID-19 and ensuring rapid and widespread vaccine deployment. To support economic recovery, authorities also need to facilitate a re-investment cycle aimed at sustainable growth that is less dependent on government debt.
“‘While the global economy appears to have entered a subdued recovery, policymakers face formidable challenges—in public health, debt management, budget policies, central banking and structural reforms—as they try to ensure that this still fragile global recovery gains traction and sets a foundation for robust growth,’ said World Bank Group President David Malpass. ‘To overcome the impacts of the pandemic and counter the investment headwind, there needs to be a major push to improve business environments, increase labor and product market flexibility, and strengthen transparency and governance.’
“The collapse in global economic activity in 2020 is estimated to have been slightly less severe than previously projected, mainly due to shallower contractions in advanced economies and a more robust recovery in China. In contrast, disruptions to activity in the majority of other emerging market and developing economies were more acute than expected.
“’Financial fragilities in many of these countries, as the growth shock impacts vulnerable household and business balance sheets, will also need to be addressed,’Vice President and World Bank Group Chief Economist Carmen Reinhart said.
“The near-term outlook remains highly uncertain, and different growth outcomes are still possible, as a section of the report details. A downside scenario in which infections continue to rise and the rollout of a vaccine is delayed could limit the global expansion to 1.6% in 2021. Meanwhile, in an upside scenario with successful pandemic control and a faster vaccination process, global growth could accelerate to nearly 5 percent.
“In advanced economies, a nascent rebound stalled in the third quarter following a resurgence of infections, pointing to a slow and challenging recovery. U.S. GDP is forecast to expand 3.5% in 2021, after an estimated 3.6% contraction in 2020. In the euro area, output is anticipated to grow 3.6% this year, following a 7.4% decline in 2020. Activity in Japan, which shrank by 5.3% in the year just ended, is forecast to grow by 2.5% in 2021.
“Aggregate GDP in emerging market and developing economies, including China, is expected to grow 5% in 2021, after a contraction of 2.6% in 2020. China’s economy is expected to expand by 7.9% this year following 2% growth last year. Excluding China, emerging market and developing economies are forecast to expand 3.4% in 2021 after a contraction of 5% in 2020. Among low-income economies, activity is projected to increase 3.3% in 2021, after a contraction of 0.9% in 2020.
“Analytical sections of the latest Global Economic Prospects report examine how the pandemic has amplified risks around debt accumulation; how it could hold back growth over the long term absent concerted reform efforts; and what risks are associated with the use of asset purchase programs as a monetary policy tool in emerging market and developing economies.
“’The pandemic has greatly exacerbated debt risks in emerging market and developing economies; weak growth prospects will likely further increase debt burdens and erode borrowers’ ability to service debt,’World Bank Acting Vice President for Equitable Growth and Financial Institutions Ayhan Kose said. ‘The global community needs to act rapidly and forcefully to make sure the recent debt accumulation does not end with a string of debt crises. The developing world cannot afford another lost decade.’
“As severe crises did in the past, the pandemic is expected to leave long lasting adverse effects on global activity. It is likely to worsen the slowdown in global growth projected over the next decade due to underinvestment, underemployment, and labor force declines in many advanced economies. If history is any guide, the global economy is heading for a decade of growth disappointments unless policy makers put in place comprehensive reforms to improve the fundamental drivers of equitable and sustainable economic growth.
“Policymakers need to continue to sustain the recovery, gradually shifting from income support to growth-enhancing policies. In the longer run, in emerging market and developing economies, policies to improve health and education services, digital infrastructure, climate resilience, and business and governance practices will help mitigate the economic damage caused by the pandemic, reduce poverty and advance shared prosperity. In the context of weak fiscal positions and elevated debt, institutional reforms to spur organic growth are particularly important. In the past, the growth dividends from reform efforts were recognized by investors in upgrades to their long-term growth expectations and increased investment flows.
“Central banks in some emerging market and developing economies have employed asset purchase programs in response to pandemic-induced financial market pressures, in many cases for the first time. When targeted to market failures, these programs appear to have helped stabilize financial markets during the initial stages of the crisis. However, in economies where asset purchases continue to expand and are perceived to finance fiscal deficits, these programs may erode central bank operational independence, risk currency weakness that de-anchors inflation expectations, and increase worries about debt sustainability.”
Whether the economic recovery in 2021 is as robust as projected or is dramatically smaller (worst case scenario) will obviously affect trade flows of both goods and services. As can be seen from the initial roll out of vaccines in the U.S., EU, U.K., Canada and other countries, there are significant goods and services involved with the production, distribution and utilization of vaccines globally and within markets. Thus, if there are problems with vaccinating large parts of populations, that will have a direct effect on both goods shipments and on various services. There are also the indirect effects on goods and services from the likely continued restrictions on travel and tourism if the pandemic is not brought under control, something that widespread vaccinations will assist in achieving. My post yesterday reviewed some of the early challenges with vaccinations occurring in the U.S., EU and India. Additional articles are appearing which suggest a lot of work needs to be done to in fact permit rapid vaccinations of populations. See, e.g., Politico, The EU’s coronavirus vaccine blame game. Why so slow?, January 5, 2021, https://www.politico.eu/article/the-vaccination-blame-game-is-it-all-the-eus-fault/; Politico, Sluggish coronavirus vaccination rollout poses risks for Macron, January 5, 2021, https://www.politico.eu/article/coronavirus-covid19-vaccine-campaign-fail-france-president-emmanuel-macron-election/; Wall Street Journal, Covid-19 Vaccine’s Slow Rollout Could Portend More Problems, January 1, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/covid-19-vaccines-slow-rollout-could-portend-more-problems-11609525711/ And this comes against the backdrop of continued surges of new cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. and many other countries which will extend restrictions into the early months of 2021 at least and hence restrict economic recovery in at least the first quarter of 2021. See, e.g., Financial Times, Covid surges as UK rolls out mass vaccination programme, January 3, 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/71140ee7-8e47-4499-9fcf-2d23d5c7d94f; New York Times, The Lull Before the Surge on Top of the Surge, January 5, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/05/us/california-coronavirus.html
The World Bank report identifies a host of policy issues for governments and challenges flowing from the high level of debt that has been incurred during 2020 and the downward pressures on investment flows in many countries. Many countries will have trouble implementing the appropriate policy options because of existing debt issues (particularly many developing countries) or because of political gridlock, as is apparent in the U.S. even with a new Administration due to be sworn in on January 20. See, e.g., New York Times, $900 Billion Wonʼt Carry Biden Very Far (Despite new pandemic aid, he confronts an economic crisis unlike any since he last entered office in 2009. And political headwinds have only stiffened), January 4, 2021. Indeed, as reviewed in a recent Congressional Research Service updated report on the Global Economic Effects of COVID-19 (updated as of December 23, 2020), the level of debt incurred by developed and developing countries has surged during the pandemic with the level of fiscal deficit relative to GDP reflecting declining government revenues and increased expenditures to reduce the negative effects of the pandemic. See CRS, Global Economic Effects of COVID-19, updated December 23, 2020, page 13, https://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R46270.pdf. The figure from the report is copied below. Obviously the levels of fiscal deficit incurred in 2020 are not sustainable. They also reduce flexibilities of countries in policy actions that can be taken to speed up the recovery of the national and global economies.
The world needs to return to a period of sustained economic growth that is more inclusive and more equitable. The arrival of vaccines (with more expected in the first quarter of 2021) and the ramp up of production, distribution and utilization of vaccines around the world can expand economic growth both directly through the goods and services involved and indirectly through permitting countries to ease restrictions imposed to try to control the pandemic. The first few weeks of the rollout of vaccines have not been without significant problems. As reviewed in yesterday’s post, production of the vaccines that have been approved by individual nations is running behind what was anticipated, in some cases (e.g., India) significantly. While distribution has been reasonably robust in the U.S. and some other countries, there is a significant lag in getting the vaccines utilized with a wide variety of problems identified in different markets.
As the World Bank’s report today makes clear, if countries are not able to achieve significant vaccinations in 2021 the projected growth of global GDP could be cut by more than half. A global economy that is not expected to return to 2019 levels until 2022 even if 2021 growth rates are achieved will be further retarded if vaccinations lag what is needed. That will reduce trade volumes of goods and services, leave tens of millions of people around the world unemployed or underemployed, and challenge the ability to achieve UN Sustainability Goals on a host of issues including poverty, food security and many more.
President-elect Biden and his team are focused on dramatically ramping up the response in the United States, but the challenges here are significant and complicated by a divided public many of whom still doubt there is a pandemic or that it is problematic or who are opposed to vaccinations. Challenges exist in many other countries as well.
If ever there were a time for people to come together and ensure the timely vaccinations of as many people as possible as quickly as possible, it is obviously now. Whether that can be achieved is the multi-trillion dollar question.
The year 2020 is now forecast to result in the sharpest economic contraction since World War II. This is the first recession in 150 years flowing entirely from a health pandemic. With data collected over the last five and a half months (Dec. 31 – June 13), confirmed COVID-19 cases are more than 7.625 million globally and total deaths are more than 425,000 (with both numbers viewed as significantly understated). The global trend line on new cases continues to rise as of June 13 while the number of reported deaths has declined from its peak and stabilized at a high rate.
The OECD outlook data show for a single pass of COVID-19, declines for the world at 6.0%, the G20 at 5.7%, OECD at 7.5%, the U.S. at 7.3%, the Euro area at 9.1%, Japan at 6.0%, non-OECD at 4.6%, China at 2.6%, India at 3.7%, and Brazil at 7.4%. Id at 13, Table 1.1. The projections if there is a second wave of COVID-19 cases are significantly worse for all countries.
The World Bank’s estimates for 2020 are similar for some areas and lower for the United States (-6.1%) but shows China growing versus the OECD projected contraction. Here are the data for 2020 for selected countries from the World Bank publication:
United States -6.1%
Euro Area -9.1%
Saudi Arabia -3.8%
South Africa -7.1%
The World Bank and OECD also have different levels of trade contraction projected for 2020 in their June publications. The World Bank’s projection is for a contraction of 13.4% (page 4) while the OECD’s projection is for a contraction of 9.5% in 2020 (pae 13). These projections compare to the latest WTO projections of contractions between 13% and 32%. April 8, 2020, WTO press release, Trade set to pluge as COVID-19 pandemic upends global economy, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/pres20_e/pr855_e.htm.
Foreward to the World Bank’s Global Economic Prospects
The World Bank’s recent report in its foreward by the Bank’s President David Malpass provides a stark summary of the challenges for many emerging markets and developing economies and the efforts of the World Bank in finding solutions. The foreward (pages xiii – xiv) is reproduced below:
“The COVID-19 pandemic and the economic shutdown in advanced economies and other parts of the globe have disrupted billions of lives and are jeopardizing decades of development progress.
“This edition of the Global Economic Prospects assesses the impacts of the pandemic and analyzes possible courses and outcomes. It presents clear actions needed by the global community and national policymakers—to limit the harm, recover, and rebuild better and stronger than before.
“The report describes a global economy suffering a devastating blow. Our baseline forecast envisions the deepest global recession since World War II. The report also includes an exhaustive analysis of the outlook for emerging market and developing economies, many of which are now fighting on two fronts—containing the domestic outbreak and its consequences while coping with the economic spillovers from the deep recessions in advanced economies.
“Looking a layer deeper, the report investigates the depth and breadth of the economic and humanitarian storm. The COVID-19 recession is the first since 1870 to be triggered solely by a pandemic. The speed and depth with which it has struck suggests the possibility of a sluggish recovery that may require policymakers to consider additional interventions. For many emerging market and developing countries, however, effective financial support and mitigation measures are particularly hard to achieve because a substantial share of employment is in informal sectors.
“Beyond the staggering economic impacts, the pandemic will also have severe and long-lasting socio-economic impacts that may well weaken long-term growth prospects—the plunge in investment because of elevated uncertainty, the erosion of human capital from the legions of unemployed, and the potential for ruptures of trade and supply linkages.
“The World Bank Group is committed to helping alleviate financing breakdowns from the COVID-19 crisis in ways that work toward a more resilient recovery. Some examples include expanding and increasing the coverage of safety net programs, providing trade finance, and supporting the working capital needs of small and medium-sized enterprises. In the broad COVID-19 response for the poorest nations, World Bank Group resources are being scaled up dramatically and debt service payments by official bilateral creditors were suspended on May 1, with comparable treatment expected by commercial creditors.
“Yet these steps toward financing and liquidity will not be enough. Even before the pandemic, development for people in the world’s poorest countries was slow to raise their incomes, enhance living standards, or narrow inequality. The pandemic and economic shutdown in advanced economies and elsewhere are hitting the poor and vulnerable the hardest – through illnesses, job and income losses, food supply disruptions, school closures and lower remittance flows.
“Thus, policy makers face unprecedented challenges from the health, macroeconomic and social effects of the pandemic. To limit the harm, it is important to secure core public services, maintain a private sector and get money directly to people. This will allow a quicker return to business creation and sustainable development after the pandemic has passed. During this mitigation period, countries should focus on targeted support to households and essential public and private sector services; and remain vigilant to counter potential financial disruptions.
“During the recovery period, countries will need to calibrate the withdrawal of public support and should be attentive to broader development challenges. The Global Economic Prospects report discusses the importance of allowing an orderly allocation of new capital toward sectors that are productive in the new post-pandemic structures that emerge. To succeed in this, countries will need reforms that allow capital and labor to adjust relatively fast—by speeding the resolution of disputes, reducing regulatory barriers, and reforming the costly subsidies, monopolies and protected state-owned enterprises that have slowed development.
“To make future economies more resilient, many countries will need systems that can build and retain more human and physical capital during the recovery—using policies that reflect and encourage the post-pandemic need for new types of jobs, businesses and governance systems.
“Emerging market and developing economies are devoting more public resources to critical health care and support for livelihoods during the shutdown, adding to the urgency of their allowing and attracting more private sector investment. This makes the financing and building of productive infrastructure one of the hardest-to-solve development challenges in the post-pandemic recovery.
“The transparency of all government financial commitments, debt-like instruments and investments is a key step in creating an attractive investment climate and could make substantial progress this year. Faster advances in digital connectivity are also necessary and should get a vital boost from the pandemic, which heightened the value of teleworking capabilities, digital information, and broad connectivity. Digital financial services are playing a transformative role in allowing new entrants into the economy and making it easier for governments to provide rapidly expandable, needs-based cash transfers.
“This edition of the Global Economic Prospects describes a grave near-term outlook. The speed and strength of the recovery will depend on the effectiveness of the support programs governments and the international community put in place now; and, critically, on what policymakers do to respond to the new environment. The World Bank Group is committed to seeking much better outcomes for people in emerging market and developing countries, especially the poor. During the crisis, we call on policymakers to act fast and forcefully: our interventions should be no less powerful than the crisis itself.”
Editorial by Chief Economist to OECD June Economic Outlook
Echoing the challenging times ahead in 2020, the OECD’s Chief Economist Laurence Boon reviews the tightrope that OECD countries face before a vaccine is available. The editorial is reprinted below (pages 7-9)
“After the lockdown, a tightrope walk toward recovery
“The spread of Covid-19 has shaken people’s lives around the globe in an extraordinary way, threatening health, disrupting economic activity, and hurting wellbeing and jobs. Since our last Economic Outlook update, in early March, multiple virus outbreaks evolved into a global pandemic, moving too fast across the globe for most healthcare systems to cope with effectively. To reduce the spread of the virus and buy time to strengthen healthcare systems, governments had to shut down large segments of economic activity. At the time of writing, the pandemic has started to recede in many countries, and activity has begun to pick up. The health, social and economic impact of the outbreak could have been considerably worse without the dedication of healthcare and other essential workers who continued to serve the public, putting their own health at risk in doing so.
“Governments and central banks have put in place wide-ranging policies to protect people and businesses from the consequences of the sudden stop in activity. Economic activity has collapsed across the OECD during shutdowns, by as much as 20 to 30% in some countries, an extraordinary shock. Borders have been closed and trade has plummeted. Simultaneously, governments implemented quick, large and innovative support measures to cushion the blow, subsidising workers and firms. Social and financial safety nets were strengthened at record speed. As financial stress surged, central banks took forceful and timely action, deploying an array of conventional and unconventional policies above and beyond those used in the Global Financial Crisis, preventing the health and economic crisis from spilling over into a financial one.
“As long as no vaccine or treatment is widely available, policymakers around the world will continue to walk on a tightrope. Physical distancing and testing, tracking, tracing and isolating (TTTI) will be the main instruments to fight the spread of the virus. TTTI is indispensable for economic and social activities to resume. But those sectors affected by border closures and those requiring close personal contact, such as tourism, travel, entertainment, restaurants and accommodation will not resume as before. TTTI may not even be enough to prevent a second outbreak of the virus.
“Faced with this extraordinary uncertainty, this Economic Outlook presents two possible scenarios: one where the virus continues to recede and remains under control, and one where a second wave of rapid contagion erupts later in 2020. These scenarios are by no means exhaustive, but they help frame the field of possibilities and sharpen policies to walk such uncharted grounds. Both scenarios are sobering, as economic activity does not and cannot return to normal under these circumstances. By the end of 2021, the loss of income exceeds that of any previous recession over the last 100 years outside wartime, with dire and long-lasting consequences for people, firms and governments.
“The pandemic has accelerated the shift from ‘great integration’ to ‘great fragmentation’. Additional trade and investment restrictions have sprung up. Many borders are closed across large regions and will likely remain so, at least in part, as long as sizeable virus outbreaks continue. Economies are diverging, depending on when and to what extent they were hit by the virus, the preparedness of their healthcare system, their sectoral specialisation and their fiscal capacity to address the shock. Emerging-market economies have also been shaken by the crisis. Commodity prices have plummeted. Large capital outflows, plummeting remittances, weaker healthcare systems and a large share of informal workers have threatened their health, economic and social resilience. Everywhere, the lockdown has also exacerbated inequality across workers, with those able to telework generally highly qualified, while the least qualified and youth are often on the front line, unable to work or laid off, with the effects further compounded by unequal access to social protection. Private debt levels are uncomfortably high in some countries, and business failure and bankruptcy risks loom large.
“Extraordinary policies will be required to walk the tightrope towards recovery. Even if growth does surge in some sectors, overall activity will remain muted for a while. Governments can provide the safety nets that allow people and firms to adjust, but cannot uphold private sector activity, employment and wages for a prolonged period. Capital and workers from impaired sectors and businesses will have to move towards expanding ones. Such transitions are difficult, and rarely happen fast enough to prevent the number of failing firms from rising and a sustained period of unemployment. Governments will need to adapt support and accompany the transition, allowing fast restructuring processes for firms, with no stigma for entrepreneurs, providing income for workers in between jobs, training for those laid off and transitioning to new jobs, and social protection for the most vulnerable. We have previously called for a rise in public investment in digital and green technologies to promote long-term sustainable growth and lift demand in the short term. This is even more urgent today with economies having been hit so hard.
“Today’s recovery policies will shape economic and social prospects in the coming decade. Ultra-accommodative monetary policies and higher public debt are necessary and will be accepted as long as economic activity and inflation are depressed, and unemployment is high. However, debt-financed spending should be well targeted to support the most vulnerable and the investment necessary for a transition to a more robust economy. Public support needs to be transparent and fair. Corporate support from governments must come with transparent rules, with private bond and equity holders taking a loss when government steps in, so that their rewards for taking risks are not excessive. Improving employer-employee relationships should accompany ongoing public support for workers and firms, paving the way for stronger social cohesion and ultimately a stronger and more sustainable recovery.
“The recovery will not gain steam without more confidence, which will not fully recover without global cooperation. Confidence needs to be boosted both at the national and international levels. Household saving rates have soared in most OECD countries, with high uncertainty and rising unemployment holding back consumption. Trade disruptions and the associated threats to supply chains also impede the necessary reduction in uncertainty for investment to resume. Global cooperation to tackle the virus with a treatment and vaccine and a broader resumption of multilateral dialogue will be key for reducing doubt and unlock economic momentum. The international community should ensure that when a vaccine or treatment is available it can be distributed rapidly worldwide. Otherwise the threat will stay. Likewise, resuming a constructive dialogue on trade would lift business confidence and the appetite for investment.
“Governments must seize this opportunity to engineer a fairer and more sustainable economy, making competition and regulation smarter, modernising government taxes, spending, and social protection. Prosperity comes from dialogue and cooperation. This holds true at the national and global level.”
With a lack of Global Cooperation, the WTO is limited to a monitoring of actions by Members and providing transparency
Many of the challenges facing countries, their companies, workers and citizens are not trade related as reviewed in the World Bank and OECD excerpts provided above. But trade does play a role and for many countries a central role in terms of access to needed medical goods and other items. The WTO, as the GATT before it, offers significant leeway to Members to impose export restraints during health emergencies and in other situations. Where there has been a lack of global planning and preparedness for a pandemic, as has been the case with COVID-19, the world finds itself in a situation where demand for medical goods far exceeds supply for extended periods of time for different countries. The desired trade approach of keeping markets open sounds good and is critical for countries with import needs but is typically ignored by many countries that have production capacity and/or inventories, at least temporarily, as all governments look to protect their own populations first.
The G20 has announced some trade actions they are pursuing to ensure trade remains open, although important issues like limiting export restraints and promoting import liberalization are hortatory in nature reflecting the fact that many G20 members have taken and some maintain export restraints or are not supportive of other than ad hoc liberalization initiatives that are necessarily other than temporary.
Two recent speeches by Deputy Director-General Alan Wolff review what the WTO has been able to do to date in the pandemic (limited to seeking notifications of actions by Members, publishing information on the same, developing a trade forecast), what WTO Members have proposed as potential WTO initiatives (to date proposals have been from mid-sized economies and are open for signature by other Members) and the opportunities and challenges for reform of the WTO moving forward. See DDG Wolff, “The challenges are not over”, June 5, 2020, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/ddgaw_05jun20_e.htm; DDG Wolff, “There can be no permanent retreat from what has been created”, June 10, 2020, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/ddgaw_11jun20_e.htm.
The information collected by the WTO and posted on its website, the information notes on various trade topics affected by the pandemic, the efforts to interact with other multilateral organizations and with the business community are all helpful for Members and their constituents to understand what is happening in the trade environment and how the pandemic is affecting areas of trade, types of Members and so on.
It is also the case that initiatives proposed and actions taken by individual countries to improve the market environment, ensure greater market openness and speed availability of medical goods are helpful even if not embraced by the entirety of the WTO membership.
But there is little doubt that there is not the level of global cooperation nor the leadership from the major players to minimize the global fallout from the pandemic or to maximize the speed of the global recovery.
There is no obvious road ahead to greater cooperation or to the meaningful emergence of leadership by the majors in the remainder of 2020. Let’s hope that observation proves to be incorrect. The costs of failure to better cooperate and for the majors to lead in fact are likely unprecedented and will affect the lives of billions of people.
As reviewed in yesterday’s post, Nigeria had announced that it would be nominating Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Nigeria’s nomination was received at the WTO today, June 9. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has twice served as Nigeria’s Finance Minister and had a two-decade career at the World Bank. Her resume as submitted to the WTO is embedded below.
Each candidate put forward to date has strengths and possible perceived weaknesses in terms of the DG position, although the qualifications of candidates outlined in the procedures are broad: “In broad terms, candidates should have extensive experience in international relations, encompassing economic, trade and/or political experience; a firm commitment to the work and objectives of the WTO; proven leadership and managerial ability; and demonstrated communications skills.” WT/L/509, para. 9 The procedures, wherein candidates are given time to make themselves known to Members both in Geneva and in capitals and the General Council meeting to give each candidate an opportunity to present their credentials and vision for the WTO provides important opportunities for each candidate to demonstrate his or her qualifications.
Just looking at the biographies provided to the WTO for the first two candidates, I would make the following preliminary comments:
Jesus Seade has a strong trade background and is knowledgeable about the operations of the WTO having served as Mexico’s Ambassador to the GATT and having served as a Deputy Director-General of the GATT and WTO as well as having served as Mexico’s Chief Negotiator for the USMCA in wrapping up negotiations on the recently completed United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement and Under-Secretary for North America. His background also includes time at both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. If he has weaknesses, it could be that Mexico is viewed as part of Latin America and outgoing DG Azevedo is from Brazil, another Latin American country. For equally qualified candidates, a factor to be considered would be whether a Mexican candidate following a Brazilian DG would reflect “the diversity of the WTO’s membership in successive appointments to the post of Director-General.” WT/L/509, para 13. Mexico also asserts the status of a developing country. Should Members decide to alternate between developed and developing (as it has on the last four DGs, being from a developing country would weigh against him. It is also the case that his last direct involvement with the WTO goes back several decades, so he might have less familiarity with current WTO Missions and Member capitals than other possible candidates may have.
Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has an impressive resume with senior government positions (Finance Minister) and senior positions at a major international organization, the World Bank. Being from Africa, which has never had a Director-General, could be viewed as an advantage under the geographic diversity factor that can be considered where there are equally qualified candidates. WT/L/509, para. 13. While the sex of a candidate is not a specifically listed factor to be considered, there has not been a female Director-General and so that may be a positive for Dr. Okonjo-Iweala where other candidates are equally qualified but male. As to potential negatives, her background is in finance, not in trade, which could be viewed as a negative. Just as for Mexico, Nigeria is a developing country at the WTO. If the Members decide to rotate between developed and developing, coming from a developing country would be a negative factor. Finally, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala would likely be less well known among Geneva Missions and trade officials in capitals which could also be a negative.
With two nominees in the first two days of the month-long period for nominations, it is unknown how many candidates there will be in total by July 8. The procedures adopted in 2002 encourage nominations from a broad cross-section of Members. “In order to ensure that the best possible candidate is selected to head the WTO at any given time, candidatures representing the diversity of Members across all regions shall be invited in the nominations process.” WT/L/509, para. 13. The first two candidates are obviously very talented individuals with very different career paths. WTO Members will be attempting to determine which candidate would be best able to lead the Organization forward in a period of great challenges. Because there may be very different views as to which direction Members want the organization to go in the future, the road ahead for the selection process is not necessarily a smooth one.
If it turns out to be a crowded field, it is less likely that Members will be comfortable with a truncated timeline for considering the candidates which will require selecting an acting Director-General from the four Deputy Directors-General. To use the Chinese saying, “may we live in interesting times.”
With the COVID-19 pandemic ramping up its reach and severity in many parts of the world and with the global economy reeling as a result, there is an understandable hope for a coordinated response from the major countries in the world to minimize the effect of the pandemic, ensure availability of medical supplies and equipment, and chart a path back to growth for all.
“We suggest G20 Trade Ministers decide on concrete actions to mitigate the pandemic and speed up recovery. G20 Members could immediately undertake the following actions whilst advocating parallel action by all World Trade Organization Members.
“Refrain from new export restrictions on critical medical supplies, food or other key products. Where such emergency measures are applied, they should be targeted, transparent, proportionate with the emergency needs, and time-bound.
“Eliminate or reduce tariffs on imports of COVID-19 products, as well as lower or temporarily suspend tariffs and export taxes on food and other basic goods to safeguard household incomes and business activity.
“Ensure that vital products can cross borders safely, by ensuring continuity of border agency clearance for critical supplies and essential transport and logistics.
“Secure continued access to capital and trade financing to medium, small and micro enterprises (MSMEs).”
For some analysts, the failure to provide specific action steps reflects a claimed lack of leadership among the G20 leaders (in particular to a lack of leadership by the U.S.). Those raising concerns compare the communiques to those that came out from the financial crisis in 2008-2009 which contained some specific commitments including a standstill on trade restrictive measures.
Differences between the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2008-2009 financial crisis
While both events, the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2008-2009 financial crisis, can be described as major crisis moments for the global community, there is the very real difference of the COVID-19 pandemic threatening human life directly. WTO commitments have understandable carveouts for Members to address public health crises through deviations from their WTO commitments.
Politically, it is hard to imagine countries suffering major outbreaks of COVID-19 not having an initial primary commitment to address the internal needs of their citizens. This has led to many countries seeking at least temporarily to secure critical medical supplies and equipment to address the surge in illness that has followed the spread of the virus in individual countries. This includes both major developed countries like the members of the EU and major countries like China (in the early stages of the outbreak there). The daily pleas from governors and mayors across the United States for more supplies and equipment show the internal pressures for governments to secure supplies and equipment critical to the short-term needs.
This does not mean that proposals for joint action aren’t meritorious or that some actions by individual countries can be harmful to overall global welfare as well as their own short-term interests. Rather the internal challenges will differ for different countries or territories and may make joint actions at a given point in time less doable. In such situations, individual country actions can be important with joint actions undertaken where possible. For example, in the U.S. and in other countries, there is an effort to ramp up production of critical supplies and equipment. Such individual action can have important positive effects on the global response to COVID-19.
While many countries sent supplies to China back in January-February when China was going through its peak needs and ramping up its production, China has been exporting supplies to various countries as its internal needs recede and external demand ramps up. Press accounts, for example, indicate that the U.S. has procured 10 plane loads of medical supplies from China, the first of which arrived in the last several days in New York.
Similarly, the U.S. has been working with companies in the United States to increase production of medical personal protection equipment and of ventilators as part of its effort to address the surge in demand that is occurring in individual U.S. hot spots. Ramp up of production is also important in light of the global shortage of some of the items during periods of heightened demand. President Trump in a recent press conference indicated that it was likely that as production increased on ventilators in the U.S., there would be excess volume at some point that could be shared with other countries without sufficient supplies.
Thus, individual country actions can have important longer term benefits for other countries around the world.
Actions by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to Assist Developing and Least Developed Countries Are Supported by G20 Members
G20 members are important players in both the World Bank and the IMF. As reviewed in statements by each organization in yesterday’s trade ministers meeting (World Bank) and today’s finance minister’s meeting (IMF), each organization is taking aggressive actions to provide assistance to developing and least developed countries to help in addressing COVID-19 and the recovery of economies after the pandemic. Such action is possible because of the support of the major economies in those organizations.
For example, the World Bank reviewed the following actions it is taking to respond to COVID-19 at yesterday’s trade ministers meeting:
“The WBG is providing fast, flexible responses to lessen the impact of COVID-19 on developing countries. The $14 billion Fast Track Facility approved on March 17 assists countries and companies in their efforts to prevent, detect, and respond to the rapid spread of COVID-19. We have emergency operations for 60 countries already underway and more to come.
“We are entering into the next phase of our response to further address the broader economic and social impact. The WBG will deploy $160 billion over 15 months to:
“Protect the poor and vulnerable through social safety net programs. Oer World Bank facilitated procurement to help clients access needed medical supplies and equipment, for no fee, to address the significant disrutption in supply chains.
“Support businesses and their employees, especially MSMEs, through IFC trade and credit lines.
“Strengthen economic resilience and speed of recovery through budget support and sectoral interventions, including in trade and investment.
“We and the IMF are also calling on all official bilateral creditors to suspend debt payments from IDA countries that request forbearance.”
Similarly, below is the statement by the IMF from today’s finance ministers meeting:
“March 31, 2020
“Washington, DC – International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva made the following remarks today during an extraordinary conference call of G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors:
“Thank you to the Saudi G20 presidency for calling this extraordinary meeting.
“‘We welcome the decisive actions many of you have taken to shield people and the economy from COVID-19, that led to a decline in volatility in major financial markets in recent days. Nonetheless we remain very concerned about the negative outlook for global growth in 2020 and in particular about the strain a downturn would have on emerging markets and low- income countries.
“Our forecast of a recovery next year hinges on how we manage to contain the virus and reduce the level of uncertainty.
“Thus, we support an ambitious G20 action plan to strengthen the capacity of health systems to cope with the epidemic; to stabilize the world economy through timely, targeted and coordinated measures; and to pave the way towards recovery.
“And we will do our part. In fact, we got a strong mandate last Friday from our governing body, the International Monetary and Financial Committee (IMFC), on reforms to strengthen our crisis response.
“In particular, it endorsed initiatives to:
“· Enhance access to our emergency facilities, as now some 85 countries indicate they rely on them for financial support;
“· Build up our capacity to serve our poorest members; and
“· Help countries experiencing foreign exchange shortages, including possibly by short-term liquidity line.
Thus, the G20 through their involvement in multilateral organizations like the World Bank and the IMF are taking collective action to address various aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic and global recovery whether or not there are specific G20 actions taken outside of those organizations.
Additional Challenges and Opportunities For G20 Members
access for transport moving goods
One of the unusual challenges flowing from COVID-19 is dealing with concerns about movement of people with the need for the movement of goods across borders. For example, many countries have imposed travel restrictions from certain offshore locations to try and control the spread of COVID-19. Even where there is not an outright ban on entry from certain foreign countries, there may be requirements for mandatory quarantine of people travelling from certain countries. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has a webpage following measures taken by governments related to COVID-19. As of today, IATA shows 179 measures having been taken by countries around the world. See https://www.iata.org/en/programs/safety/health/diseases/government-measures-related-to-coronavirus/. IATA has urged countries to develop approaches that permit international transport to access countries without staff being quarantined. The consequences for the rapid movement of medical supplies and equipment if transport personnel can’t enter and exit in ways that are acceptable to receiving countries should be obvious. But the solution will potentially differ by each importing country’s risk profile compared to each exporting country’s risk profile. It is unclear what actions G20 countries are taking to address these concerns/needs. Transparency and a task force to identify current and best practices could be helpful in the short term on this critical issue.
2. transparency issues
G20 countries have agreed to support transparency of measures taken to address COVID-19, and the WTO has a webpage which is tracking notices provided by WTO Members. To date relatively few notices have been provided to the WTO (just 18 as of March 31, 2020). Seehttps://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/covid19_e/covid19_e.htm.
But transparency goes beyond WTO notifications and deals with issues such as transparency on developments in individual countries on the spread of the disease, research into possible vaccines, best practices in reducing the spread of the virus, information on potential medical supplies and equipment and on potential demand among countries (including efforts at expanding production).
While there is seemingly reasonably good information on the spread of the disease in many countries and at least basic information on research ongoing around the world, it is not clear that there is a clearinghouse for information on supplies or on anticipated demand. If not, this could be an area where business associations and governments could work collectively to develop information that could be useful in maximizing availability of products where and when needed, to identify likely bottlenecks in supply and permitting governments to incentivize expanded production. There is also the question of surges in needs for medical personnel that outstrip availability even in developed countries. Transparency on availability of personnel (active, retired, etc.) willing to move intracountry and internationally would be an extraordinarily important data base and could help countries with needs determine ability to handle temporary medical help.
3. Research and Development of Vaccines and Intellectual Property Issues
There are many businesses, government entities and research groups looking for a vaccine for the COVID-19. The greater the exchange of information, the greater the likelihood of an early breakthrough. Many issues arise around any bteakthrough in terms of intellectual property rights, global needs and affordability. How those issues are addressed will be an important part of any longterm global recovery and the human costs that will be incurred going into the future from the virus. A recent Congressional Research Service paper looks at certain possible TRIPs and subsidy issues. While the discussion in the paper isn’t necessarily accurate in terms of WTO implications in all instances, it provides a list of questions that G20 members and the broader global community will need to consider.
COVID-19 is an extraordinary challenge to the global community with the ability to overwhelm health systems in advanced economies in a matter of weeks to say nothing of the potential for harm to less advanced economies.
The G20 has called for coordinated action and stated the objectives of keeping markets open, limiting restrictions on trade, exchanging information and assisting developing and least developed countries. The individual countries who are part of the G20 have also been taking action through the World Bank and IMF to help other countries address challenges from COVID-19.
At the same time, major G20 players — US, EU countries, China — have faced major challenges in their territories which have required a focus on how to address national challenges effectively and quickly. Other countries and territories have also faced various levels of spread of COVID-19 and have focused on actions they have needed to minimize the spread and help their citizens. More countries are likely to be hot spots in the coming months.
The WTO and the GATT before it have recognized that obligations undertaken must have escape clauses when there are emergencies involving human health.
Thus, the art of the possible with COVID-19 may be the articulation of aspirational objectives by leaders or international organizations or by outside analysts, the exchange of information to permit better decisions, and individual or group action where possible within the context of domestic political realities.