Canada leads WTO call to avoid trade-distorting responses to COVID-19

Canada and nearly two dozen other members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) are urging global leaders to avoid taking measures that adversely affect trade of agriculture products while responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The group, which includes the European Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States, issued a joint statement on Canada’s request on Wednesday.

It’s not clear why Canada was the country that initiated the joint statement, or whether it was a response to specific concerns about what other countries are doing.

The fact the U.S. signed the statement is worth noting, given President Donald Trump’s contempt for the WTO and the U.S. government’s announcement of a $19 billion aid package for agriculture, including $16 billion in direct payments, last week.

The statement calls on WTO member countries to maintain market access and to keep emergency measures that affect agricultural trade in check, highlighting the negative impact trade restrictions and domestic stock-building policies could have on food security.

The 23 countries that issued the document say they are committed to the following principles:

a. To ensure that supply chains remain open and connected so that international markets can continue to function in supporting the movement of agricultural products and agriculture inputs, which plays an instrumental role in avoiding food shortages and ensuring global food security.

b. To exercise restraint in establishing domestic food stocks of agricultural products that are traditionally exported so as to avoid disruptions or distortions in international trade.

c. Not to impose agriculture export restrictions and refrain from implementing unjustified trade barriers on agriculture and agri-food products and key agricultural production inputs.

d. That emergency measures related to agriculture and agri-food products designed to tackle COVID-19 must be targeted, proportionate, transparent, and temporary, and not create unnecessary barriers to trade or disruption to global supply chains for agriculture and agri-food products. Any such measures are to be consistent with WTO rules.

e. To inform the WTO as soon as practicable of any trade related COVID-19 measures affecting agriculture and agri-food products, including providing scientific evidence in accordance with WTO agreements if necessary, to ensure transparency and predictability. Members should be given opportunities to review new measures.

f. To ensure that updated and accurate information on levels of food production, consumption and stocks, as well as on food prices is widely available, including through existing international mechanisms.

g. To support the efforts of the WTO and other international organizations in analysing the impacts of COVID-19 on global agriculture and agri-food trade and production.

h. To engage in a dialogue to improve our preparedness and responsiveness to regional or international pandemics, including multilateral coordination to limit unjustified agriculture export restrictions, in particular at the WTO.

Ultimately, the joint statement is just a statement. It’s not an agreement, and it remains to be seen whether the WTO can be effective at enforcing agreed-upon terms of trade in the current environment. As an agricultural exporter, however, it’s in Canada’s interests to maintain rules-based and predictable market access, and the joint statement shows other countries still agree.

You can read the entire statement here.

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