The World Trade Organization (WTO) warned on Thursday that, so far, 80 countries and customs territories have introduced export prohibitions or restrictions as a result of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. A report by the WTO Secretariat, which is based on information from official sources and news agencies, draws attention to the current lack of transparency at the multilateral level and the long-term risks posed by export restrictions for global supply chains and public welfare. The document mentions that the new export prohibitions and restrictions mainly cover medical supplies such as face masks, pharmaceuticals, ventilators, and other medical equipment. Some of the measures have extended controls to other products such as food and toilet paper. However, only 13 WTO members (or 39 if the EU member states are counted individually) have submitted information on these new measures in line with WTO rules for quantitative restrictions.
Three of them have notified food export restrictions in accordance with the WTO Agreement on Agriculture. The report points out the damage and delays that insufficient information inflicts on countries seeking to acquire materials to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and provides guidance on how WTO members can notify their measures. Only a handful of notifications were submitted in March 2020 and have since increased in April. While the report acknowledges exceptions in the WTO rules for export prohibitions or restrictions, it also highlights the costs that import and export economies will face in the long term, particularly in terms of lower supply and higher prices for much-needed products.