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Trade Negotiations at the World Trade Organisation

At a virtual meeting of all WTO members on 17 April, over 50 delegation heads took the floor to exchange views on the use of online discussions and written procedures to continue WTO work and decision-making during the COVID-19 lockdown. Director-General Roberto Azevêdo also used the informal session to urge members to submit information about pandemic-related trade measures to the WTO Secretariat’s ongoing monitoring exercise. It has been noted that some states have seized the opportunity of the COVID lockdown to impose new tariff and non-tariff barriers. For example, SA imposed a ban on the exporting of medicines at the start of lockdown. These new barriers to trade can only be applied if the country involved can prove their absolute necessity under international trade rules. Different WTO bodies have continued with smaller-group conference calls and written exchanges since the lockdown started, and the so-called ISJ meetings on ecommerce are planned to continue soon. In his remarks, the Director-General said the virtual meetings responded to the desire expressed by a large number of members to find ways forward on WTO work during the lockdown. He also noted that several delegations had underscored the challenges involved in maintaining proper consultations with officials and other stakeholders, both in capitals and in Geneva, during the pandemic.

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Alastair Tempest

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