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April 24, 2020

Global export restrictions keep growing in response to COVID-19 crisis

The World Trade Organization (WTO) reports that eighty countries and customs territories so far have introduced export prohibitions or restrictions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A report prepared by the WTO Secretariat and based on information from official sources and news outlets, draws attention to the current lack of transparency at the multilateral level and long-term risks that export restrictions pose to global supply chains and public welfare.

The products covered by new export prohibitions and restrictions vary considerably; most have focused on medical supplies (e.g. facemasks and shields), pharmaceuticals and medical equipment (e.g. ventilators), but others have extended the controls to additional products, such as foodstuffs and toilet paper.

Interestingly, only 13 WTO members have submitted information on these new measures in line with WTO rules for quantitative restrictions.

At this point, transparency at the multilateral level is lacking. In principle, all these measures should be notified as soon as possible to the WTO.

Economic operators and member countries are having to cope with a high degree of uncertainty, as it remains unclear what measures have been adopted by which countries, and new measures are being introduced regularly. Insufficient information makes it hard for them to efficiently adjust their purchasing decisions and find new suppliers.

The WTO says this situation could be particularly damaging for those seeking to procure materials needed for the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

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