The WTO Director-General’s annual overview of developments in the international trading environment shows that trade restrictions are increasing in a context of economic uncertainty exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine and the food security crisis. According to the latest WTO Trade Monitoring Report, WTO members are introducing restrictions at an increased pace, particularly on food, feed, and fertilizers. The stockpile of import restrictions in force also continues to grow.
WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala called on WTO members to refrain from adopting new trade-restrictive measures, particularly export restrictions, that can further contribute to a worsening of the global economic outlook and urged them to cooperate to keep markets open and predictable in order to allow goods to move around the world to where they are needed.
“Members have increasingly implemented new trade restrictions, in particular on the export side, first in the context of the pandemic and more recently in the context of the war in Ukraine and the food security crisis. Although some of these export restrictions have been lifted, many others persist,” she said. “Out of the 78 export restrictive measures on food, feed, and fertilizers introduced since the start of the war in late February, 58 are still in place, covering roughly $56.6 billion of trade. These numbers have increased since mid-October, which should be a cause for concern.”
She added, “As I told G20 Leaders at their summit in Indonesia a few weeks ago, lifting those export restrictions is fundamental to reduce price spikes and volatility and to allow goods to flow to where they are urgently needed.”
During the review period for the report, from mid-October 2021 to mid-October 2022, WTO members introduced more trade-facilitating (376) than trade-restrictive (214) measures on goods (unrelated to the pandemic), with the average number of trade-facilitating measures per month at its highest since 2012. Most of the facilitation happened on the import side while most of the restrictions were on the export side. For the first time since the beginning of the monitoring exercise in 2009, the number of export restrictions outpaced that of import restrictions.
The trade coverage of the trade-facilitating measures was estimated at $1.16 trillion, and that of the trade-restrictive measures at $278 billion. The stockpile of import restrictions in force also continued to grow. By mid-October 2022, over 9% of global imports continue to be affected by import restrictions implemented since 2009 and which are still in force.
Initiations of trade remedy investigations declined sharply during the review period (10.9 initiations per month, the lowest since 2012) after reaching its highest peak in 2020 (36.1 initiations per month). These actions remain an important trade policy tool for many members, accounting for 37.4% of all non-COVID-19-related trade measures on goods recorded. Anti-dumping continues to be the most frequent trade remedy action in terms of initiations and terminations.
According to the report, the implementation of new COVID-19-related trade measures decelerated over the past 12 months, with 45 such measures recorded on goods and four on services. Additional information communicated by WTO members mainly consisted of termination of existing measures or amendments of others. The number of new COVID-19-related support measures by WTO members and observers to mitigate the social and economic impacts of the pandemic fell sharply over the review period.
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, 443 COVID-19-related trade and trade-related measures in the area of goods have been introduced. Most were trade-facilitating (246 or 56%), while the rest were trade-restrictive (197 or 44%). During the review period, members continued to phase out the pandemic-related measurers, and in particular the restrictive ones.
According to information received by the WTO Secretariat, as of mid-October 2022, 79.2% of the COVID-19-related trade restrictions have been repealed, leaving 27 export restrictions and 14 import restrictions in place. Although the number of the pandemic-related trade restrictions still in place has decreased, their trade coverage remains important at $134.6 billion.
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, a consistent feature of the trade and trade-related measures taken in response to the COVID-19 crisis has been the frequent changes, adjustments and gradual roll-back of such measures to reflect the evolving situation.