WCO launches COVID-19 Trade Facilitation Repository

In the wake of the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, characterized by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a pandemic on 11 March 2020, countries around the world have been adopting a series of trade and border protection measures to try to contain the spread of the disease across borders. Such measures have had immediate and severe impacts on economic activities and caused major disruptions in supply chains. Given that trade facilitation is a key policy tool that can help countries mitigate some of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the WCO has partnered with the WTO, UNCTAD, the CSSO, the GATF, IATA and ITC to develop a COVID-19 Trade Facilitation Repository in which all these actions are consolidated.

The repository acts as a platform that consolidates the initiatives on trade facilitation adopted by organizations and stakeholders, seeking to provide access to these resources in a unique and user-friendly database. It contains a useful listing of all such initiatives broken down by organization, type of measure and subject matter. As the situation evolves and further actions are taken, the platform will be expanded to include other key actors working in the area of trade facilitation.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and its unprecedented sanitary and economic effects, the WCO and other international organizations, NGOs, business associations and other representative entities have redeployed resources to develop new instruments, tools and guidance materials on trade facilitation measures. These documents can be a useful source of information for countries to learn from each other, share best practices and experiences and provide inspiration to design targeted policy responses. However, these resources were scattered throughout a multitude of platforms. This initiative will assist in ensuring that the seamless flow of safe cross-border trade continues, especially with regard to essential goods which are crucial for fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID19 Trade Facilitation Repository can be accessed via the following link and will be updated regularly to reflect new guidance material developed.

The WCO thanks its partners, the World Trade Organization (WTO), the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the Commonwealth Small States Office (CSSO) in Geneva, the Global Alliance for Trade Facilitation (GATF), the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the International Trade Centre (ITC) for this initiative and reiterates its commitment to assist its Members in securing, protecting and facilitating legitimate global trade.

Source: World Customs Organisation, 9 May 2020

China Shanghai Pudong Airport log jammed – Medical Supplies for export

Freight gridlock at Shanghai Pudong International Airport is so bad that some cargo planes are being forced to leave nearly empty and logistics companies are recommending ocean transportation as a faster option. 

Airfreight professionals describe an operational meltdown, with trucks stuck in queues for two to three days to drop off shipments and boxes piling up in warehouses unable to get put on aircraft because Chinese customs officials and ground handlers are overwhelmed by the surge in export demand for face masks and other medical supplies.

The volume of hospital gear, resumption of e-commerce and other trade following China’s coronavirus quarantine and new export restrictions are blamed for the massive backlog, which was compounded by factories rushing out extra shipments before closing for the May Day holiday.

“In my 20 years, I have never experienced this level of congestion at any airport. And there are no signs of this alleviating in the next week to 10 days,” especially with factories reopening again, Neel Jones Shah, the global head of airfreight at San Francisco-based Flexport, said in an interview.

An avalanche of personal protective equipment, test kits and disinfectant is descending on Chinese airports because the rest of the world desperately needs it to minimize exposure to the COVID-19 virus and air is the fastest delivery method. China is the world’s largest source for respirator masks, surgical masks, medical goggles and protective garments, accounting for 50% of global exports in 2018, according to Chad Bown of the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

But the onslaught of goods is running into a bureaucratic wall and piling up. Last month, Chinese authorities placed export controls on 11 types of medical supplies, including infrared thermometers, after complaints in Europe and the U.S. about low-quality purchases. Chinese-made N95 respirators failed in several tests to meet filtering standards for small particles, while non-medical masks are also being sold as medical-grade ones. In addition to special certification, all the shipments must be individually inspected and verified by customs authorities to make sure they are not defective or fraudulent.

The risk-control office that certifies the medical equipment was closed for Chinese Labor Day and customs worked reduced hours during the holiday, adding to the bottleneck.

The process of opening boxes and going through the contents with a fine-tooth comb is very manual and adds at least three days to transit times, said Brian Bourke, chief growth officer at Chicago-based SEKO Logistics.

China’s new policy has forced freight forwarders to cancel many bookings because export shipments are regularly failing customs inspections. Most of them are demanding customers have cargo ready at least four days before a flight. It now takes five to six days for shipments to get from the manufacturer’s dock onto a plane, according to logistics companies in the area. 

Meanwhile, forwarders and consolidators are requiring all freight charges for protective garments be paid up front, 72 hours before departure, because the cost of chartering a dedicated plane at the eye-popping one-way rate of $1.5 million or more, is prohibitively expensive. Pre-payment is also desired because shipments may miss the flight’s cutoff time and result in the forwarder otherwise having to eat the loss.    

Delayed or rejected loads have a knock-on effect, too, because they need to be rebooked on later flights.

The most-affected transfer station is PACTL, a joint venture between Shanghai Airport Group and Lufthansa Cargo that controls three of the seven cargo terminals at Pudong Airport, according to a SEKO client advisory. Since May 3, Eastern Air Logistics’ western cargo terminal is temporarily not accepting any new charter flights in an attempt to clear the backlog.

Chinese social media sites show massive traffic jams of trucks, with no space to unload, on the entrance road to Pudong Airport. The wait is so long, Bourke said, that trucking companies have to rotate fatigued drivers via motorcycle.

Even after shipments are cleared, they can sit in a warehouse because ground handling companies often don’t have enough labor to consolidate shipments for aircraft loading, he added.

Light loading

Jones Shah, a former head of cargo at Delta Air Lines, Inc. (NYSE: DAL), and others who do business at Pudong airport say the increased tender times have forced multiple carriers on several occasions to depart only 10% or 20% loaded because of schedule commitments, or fears that pilots will violate duty-hour limits by waiting.

Under normal circumstances, cargo airlines typically change crews in China. Instead, flights are originating in Tokyo or Seoul. Upon arrival, crews stay on the planes to avoid being tested or quarantined by Chinese authorities keen on preventing outsiders from reinfecting the local population. If freighters stay too long in Shanghai, crews will time out their duty clock and violate anti-fatigue rules before reaching a refueling stop in Anchorage, Alaska, or U.S. destinations.  

“It’s a disaster right now.  . . . There is personal protective equipment that could have been coming to the U.S. just wasn’t able to because of this backlog,” Bourke said.

Contacted by FreightWaves, North American passenger airlines that now operate so-called “ghost” charters — planes without passengers flying dedicated cargo routes — downplayed the congestion’s impact on load factors.

“PVG [airport code for Shanghai] has some challenges as a result of a huge increase in volume and flights, but American Airlines Group Inc. (NASDAQ: AAL) has been able to fill nearly all flights to-date. Demand remains very strong and our handling partners have been able to process freight in time to meet our outbound flights,” Sandy Scott, managing director of cargo operations – Europe & Asia Pacific, said in a statement. “Limiting export deliveries to 48 hours prior to flight departure helps with smoothing the flows through the cargo terminal. American is in constant contact with all global account customers, local customers, and handling partners to ensure flights leave on time and with full loads.”

A Delta spokesperson said, “Delta Cargo is working with our ground handlers and contracted warehouse providers in Shanghai to improve the situation in light of congestion affecting all airlines. Delta is committed to continuing our cargo-only flights between Shanghai and the U.S.”

Air Canada has not had aircraft leave empty because of good planning that enables it to swap out shipments that are not ready for ones that are, said Tim Wong, director of cargo sales and services for Asia-Pacific.

Airfreight workarounds

Freight forwarders are employing a number of tactics to bypass the bottlenecks and say customers need to be open to quick course corrections.

Flexport works with airline partners to delay flights upline, “before they leave for Shanghai because then the crews can continue to rest and not start their duty day. And that gives us a little more time to have freight tendered and built,” Jones Shah said. “But it can get tricky. Flights have to get to their destination because they have another flight after that. So, you’re operating within the confines of a very intricate schedule. This is a 24/7 job right now managing the complexity.”

Other Chinese airports face similar problems, to a lesser degree. SEKO is trying to avoid Shanghai at all costs for now, instead sending most airfreight to Zhengzhou airport, a 10-hour drive west of Shanghai. Time:matters, the logistics arm of Lufthansa Cargo, and its Chinese agent, Shanghai International Freight Forwarding, are also arranging cargo-only passenger charters from airports in Xiamen, Malaysia, and Nanjing, China, spokeswoman Katja Sondey said.

Making matters worse is that Chinese regulations don’t allow personal protective equipment to be exported or transshipped through Hong Kong.

“That has created lots of backlogs and capacity issues in Guangzhou and Shenzhen as many airlines do not have landing rights in mainland China and is one of the reasons why rates are sky high,” said Christos Spyrou, the CEO and founder of logistics cooperative Neutral Air Partner, via email from Hong Kong.

Fast-boat services, like those offered by Matson, Inc. (NYSE: MATX) and APL, offer another relief valve for shippers. Matson, for example, sails direct from Shanghai to Long Beach, California, in 10 days.

“We’re telling people that sometimes it’s more of a sure thing to move via expedited ocean services. And that’s an education,” Bourke said. “When your airfreight guys are selling ocean, that’s when you know that the market is working in a crazy way.”

Jones Shah said shippers — especially those who are moving a lot of volume — need a diversified strategy when it comes to moving medical supplies.

“If you’re just moving one shipment of 500,000 masks, airfreight is the way to go. If you’re moving multiple shipments of 40 million to 50 million masks over the duration of a project, there is absolutely a hybrid, modal strategy that is going to get you there.

“It’s not just air or ocean that’s going to let you be successful. You need a combination of the two,” he said.

Europe doesn’t have an express-ocean option, so some logistics companies are increasing use of transcontinental rail from China to move urgently needed protective suits and related supplies. Imperial Logistics International said it took 20 days for the first batch of 45 containers with medical gear for health care workers to arrive in Germany by train.

Source: Benzinga, featured on Yahoo.com, 8 May 2020

Bid to Hire 50,000 Post-Brexit Customs Staff

The U.K. risks failing to recruit the 50,000 customs agents the logistics industry says are needed before Britain’s final parting with the European Union, spelling potential chaos at the country’s busiest border.

The coronavirus has hampered efforts to train staff to handle the extra paperwork firms will need to complete after the U.K. exits the EU’s customs union at the year-end, according to industry bodies involved with the process. One lobby group says its offer to help plug the shortage of recruits has met with silence from Whitehall.

Without enough agents, goods traveling to and from the EU, the U.K.’s single biggest trading partner, risk being delayed at ports, disrupting supply chains and heaping more pain on companies reeling from coronavirus. Even if the two sides strike a trade deal by December, agents will still be needed to process an additional 200 million customs declarations, according to estimates by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.

“This is all blown out the water by the virus,” said Robert Keen, director-general of the British International Freight Association, which is helping to train workers to process the new paperwork with funding from a 34 million-pound ($43 million) government program. “Everybody is fighting to keep their businesses going.”

Keen’s industry group has postponed its classroom training until at least June. The number of monthly registrations for its online learning course has dropped by 80% since February.

Asked by lawmakers on April 27 how many agents have been recruited so far, Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said he didn’t know.

He told members of Parliament the government had been in talks with the logistics industry about creating a training school. Such an initiative already exists — the U.K. Customs Academy was started in September with the Institute of Export. 876 courses have been initiated or completed since the academy opened, according to KGH Customs, which helps run the program.

“There is a significantly long way to go,” said Marco Forgione, director-general of the Institute for Export. According to him, the 50,000 figure is almost certainly a conservative estimate of how many agents will be needed. He is calling on the government to encourage people who have lost their jobs because of the virus to re-train as customs officials.

‘Full Stop’

In a sign of how the virus has sapped attention away from Brexit in Whitehall, the Freight Transport Association submitted a proposal to the Treasury on March 17 about how to set up a mass education program to train up agents. More than a month later, the lobby group hasn’t received a reply.

“My impression is it has come to a full stop,” said Rod McKenzie, managing director of policy and public affairs at the Road Haulage Association. He expressed surprised he hadn’t seen any job ads for customs agents.

Talks to seal a trade deal between Britain and the EU have been disrupted by the virus. The U.K. is seeking a Canada-style accord which would eliminate tariffs on goods but create new non-tariff barriers like customs declarations and rules-of-origin paperwork. Without a deal, the U.K. would trade with the EU on terms set by the World Trade Organization, meaning steep duties on products from cars to beef.

Need to Prepare

The two sides have until the end of June to extend the standstill period Britain entered after Brexit on Jan. 31 – but the government has repeatedly ruled out seeking a delay. Business groups such as BIFA and the FTA have called for an extension, arguing firms shouldn’t have to face the double whammy of higher trade costs while still recovering from the negative effects of coronavirus.

A government spokesman said thousands of agents, freight forwarders and parcel operators had used the 34 million-pound fund to improve their IT hardware and train staff.

“The U.K. has a well-established industry of customs intermediaries who serve British businesses trading outside the EU,” the spokesman added.

Even if firms are able to divert resources into training later in the year, by when the virus might have abated, companies will still need time to prepare, said Arne Mielken, founder of Customs Manager, an advisory firm for importers and exporters.

“You can’t hammer in customs knowledge overnight,” he said. “We urge companies not to neglect the fact that Brexit is still happening.”

Source: Article by Joe Mayes, Bloomberg, 4 May 2020

WCO issues updated joint WCO/WHO HS classification list for COVID-19 medical supplies

The WCO continues its close cooperation with the World Health Organization (WHO) to contribute to the rapid cross-border movement of medical supplies and medicines needed urgently during the current COVID-19 global pandemic. Following the coordinated response adopted by the two organizations, a WHO/WCO List of Priority Medicines was released and the Joint WCO/WHO HS Classification List for COVID-19 Medical Supplies was further updated. 

The clinical characteristics of the COVID-19 and its evolution makes it challenging for the health system of many countries and shortage of medicines can worsen the situation. Potential supply chain disruptions may jeopardize the timely supply of all essential medicines, including those not directly related to COVID-19. 

The List of WHO/WCO Priority Medicines for Customs Used during COVID-19 aims at assisting Customs and economic operators in classifying these medicines. The list contains the suggested HS codes for medicines used in the general medical care administered to hospitalized patients; as part of the direct treatment of the COVID-19 disease; and for which interrupted supply could result in serious health consequences. 

The new list, which will now be continuously updated, is the result of an efficient collaboration between the WHO and the WCO. The medicines and active substances were compiled by the WHO taking into account various information published by National Health Authorities, scientific societies or pharmacology experts, and with suggested HS codes provided by the WCO Secretariat. 

The List of WHO/WCO priority medicines used during COVID-19 can be found on the WCO COVID-19 dedicated webpage.

HS classification reference for Covid-19 medical supplies 2.1 Edition

Taking into consideration the suggestions received from Members and other stakeholders, the WCO/WHO HS Classification Reference for Covid-19 Medical Supplies was once more updated with additional items that could be used during this pandemic situation. COVID-19 medical supplies list update:

Future initiative foreseen by the WCO for COVID-19 medical supplies list

The WCO is aware that some countries have used the WCO list as a reference when making their own national lists of medical supplies. In order to further facilitate trade in medical supplies and present information in a coordinated manner, the WCO is considering, for the next edition of the medical supplies list, to include links to specific national classification lists of medical supplies.  Members wishing to include information on their national classification lists of medical supplies can send their links to: hs@wcoomd.org

Further assistance in identifying essential items can be found on the website of WHO. The COVID-19 Critical Items List from the WHO can be found at:

https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/technical-guidance/covid-19-critical-items

Source: World Customs Organisation, 30 April 2020

SARS – COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions

SARS has published list of frequently asked questions in regard to the clearance of goods under the COVID-19 pandemic.

Source: SARS, 22 April 2020

New Zealand and Singapore launch initiative to ensure free flow of essential goods

New Zealand and Singapore launched a new trade initiative to ensure supply chain connectivity and the removal of blockages to trade in a list of essential products that includes medicines, medical and surgical equipment.

“Ensuring countries have the most straightforward and cost effective access possible to the essential goods needed to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic is crucial,” Trade and Export Minister David Parker said. 

David Parker and Singapore Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said: “This new initiative builds on the joint statement issued by Singapore and New Zealand last month, which has now been joined by seven other countries.

“The Declaration setting out the initiative includes a list of Covid-19 related products for which New Zealand and Singapore undertake to remove tariffs, not to impose export restrictions and to remove non-tariff barriers.  It also includes an undertaking to keep supply chains operating effectively for these products.”

There is increased global demand, in particular, for medical and hygiene products and some countries are restricting their exports of them. 

This is an “open plurilateral” initiative, so other countries can join at any point, and the two ministers said they encourage others to do so as soon as possible. 

“New Zealand and Singapore consider it crucial that during this pandemic, trade in vital goods such as medical supplies and food continues to flow freely.  We believe that global cooperation on trade can assist in dealing with this worldwide health crisis.”  

David Parker said nothing in the arrangement would prevent us ensuring we have sufficient medical equipment and supplies in New Zealand.

The Declaration includes a list of over 120 products, identified as being essential goods in combating the Covid-19 pandemic, for which participants undertake to remove tariffs. This list includes PPE equipment, medical equipment, nutritional products, medicines and hygiene supplies. The Declaration also calls for participants not to apply export restrictions on food and beverage products, and to facilitate trade in food and beverage.

Source: Beehive.gov.nz, 15 April 2020

Update to SARS Customs requirements under COVID-19

Visit the SARS Customs & Excise Webpage for an update on Customs import and export requirements under COVID-19.

The update can be accessed at this link!

Source: SARS, 19 April 2020

WTO – Trade in Medical Goods in the Context of Tackling COVID-19

This WTO study provides a comprehensive overview of trade and tariffs imposed on medical goods in general, many of which appear to be in severe shortage as a result of the current crisis. The purpose of this note is to provide factual information on how these goods are traded globally.

Download the Study here!

Source: WTO, 3 April, 2020

PSCG – Comments and observations for Government and Business during COVID-19

The Chairperson of the WCO Private Sector Consultative Group (PSCG) submitted a paper to the WCO Secretary General outlining some observations, priorities and principles to be considered by the WCO and its Members during this unprecedented time of the COVID-19 pandemic.

These observations and recommendations are divided in four categories, namely (i) expediting the clearance of essential goods and key workers to support and maintain vital services; (ii) applying the “social distancing” principles to border processes; (iii) striving for efficiencies and simplification in all clearance procedures; and (iv) supporting business resumption and recovery.

“I greatly appreciate the useful contribution from the PSCG that merits serious consideration by Customs and other border agencies.  In these challenging times, it is critical that we work even harder together in the spirit of Customs-Business partnership”, said the WCO Secretary General Dr. Kunio Mikuriya.

The PSCG was established 15 years ago with the objective of informing and advising the WCO Secretary General, the Policy Commission and WCO Members on Customs and international trade matters from the private sector perspective. 

Over the past month, the PSCG, who represents a wide range of businesses and industry associations, have been holding virtual weekly meetings, with the WCO Secretary General, Deputy Secretary General and Council Chairperson in attendance. These meetings enable the Members of the group to provide status updates relevant to their respective industries, discuss the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on international trade and the global economy, and table for discussion proposals for a course of action by the global Customs community. 

In the paper, the PSCG commends the WCO for reminding the global Customs community to apply internationally agreed procedures and processes to facilitate the cross-border movement of goods, conveyances and crew.  The Group also points out that the crisis has shed light on the sound work carried out by the WCO over recent years and has demonstrated the benefits and value of efficient Customs reform and modernization efforts, which the Organization has long been advocating.

The PSCG paper will contribute to the agendas of the relevant WCO working bodies in the months to come.

Download the PSCG’s comments here!

Source: WCO, 16 April 2020

Functional Guideline for Importing Critical Supplies and Essential Goods under Rebate Item 412.11

Business Unity South Africa has published a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to provide functional guidelines for businesses importing critical supplies and essential goods into South Africa under Rebate Item 412.11 and Schedule 1(8) of the Value Added Tax Act, and includes both imports of dutiable and duty-free goods.

Source: BUSA, 9 April 2020

WCO issues 2nd Edition HS classification list for COVID-19 medical supplies

To respond to the unprecedented demand in medical supplies amid the current global COVID-19 pandemic around the world, and in order to help countries speed up the cross-border movement of these critical products,  the WCO and the World Health Organization (WHO) joined hands to strengthen their cooperation by establishing a coordinated approach in their response to the pandemic. 

As a result of this joint effort of the two organizations, the HS Classification Reference for COVID-19 Medical Supplies was updated, in a more structured and user-friendly format, to reflect more of the products that would be required in the professional opinion and experience of the WHO in public health. The first HS classification reference for COVID-19 medical supplies, published by the WCO at the dedicated section of its website two weeks ago, was an initial response of the Secretariat to help countries in their fight against the spread of COVID-19.  The initial list contained the classification of essential products needed such as COVID-19 diagnostic test kits and masks, certain protective personal equipment and medical devices such as ventilators and ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation), consumables and disinfectant products that may be used for the prevention and treatment of the disease.  The latest edition expands this list to cover a greater range of medical equipment and supplies that are required as critical items by the WHO, such as oxygen concentrators and sample collection sets.

The list of HS-coded medical supplies was widely appreciated by stakeholders and taken into consideration by governments when preparing their responses to secure and facilitate trade in these supplies. It serves as the basis for identifying the cross-border movement of the products needed during the pandemic, applying contingent tariff and non-tariff relief policies, monitoring and combating falsified supplies, and even for taking responsive actions to address shortages.

The updated list is provided as an indicative list with a view to facilitating the classification of COVID-19 medical supplies at the international level (6 digit of the HS). Economic operators are kindly advised to consult with the relevant Customs administrations in relation to classification at domestic levels (7 or more digits) or in the event of any discrepancy between their practices and this list. 

The Second Edition of the HS Classification reference list for COVID-19 medical supplies can be found in the WCO COVID-19 dedicated page.

Source: WCO, 9 April 2020

COVID-19 Reference page for Customs and Trade users

A dedicated COVID-19 page has been added to this blog to provide Customs and Trade users a reference and insight into a variety of international and South African weblinks and documents concerning guidelines under COVID-19. This page will be updated regularly to include additional links and updates to any relevant document or website referenced. Please bookmark this page to be kept abreast of updates.

INTERPOL issues international guidelines to support law enforcement response to COVID-19

LYON, France – INTERPOL has released international guidelines in order to enhance the safety and effectiveness of law enforcement and first responder support in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Shaped in accordance with international best practices and the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommendations, the guidelines provide information on how officers can protect themselves and their families, and outline the various roles carried out by law enforcement during a pandemic. These include:

  • border control and maintaining public order
  • assisting national health authorities in identifying cases and their origin
  • relaying public health measures to the population
  • securing deliveries of medical equipment or transfers of patients

The rapid spread of the virus worldwide, and uncertainties as to its evolution, demand a global response. Here, law enforcement plays a crucial role, by contributing to the effort to control the disease, promoting safer communities, and fighting criminals who see the outbreak as an opportunity to increase – or diversify – their activities.

Accordingly the guidelines warn of emerging crimes linked to pandemic, including intimidation and deliberate dissemination attempts, fraud or phishing, cybercrime, and counterfeiting.

With police routinely running into dangerous situations to protect their communities, the guidelines are intended to be considered by law enforcement agencies as part of a response strategy to the outbreak in line with recommendations by national public health authorities. Their purpose is to supplement rather than replace national guidelines.

All measures taken by national law enforcement authorities should therefore conform with the applicable national legislation and international obligations.

INTERPOL Secretary General Jürgen Stock said all levels of law enforcement were being mobilized during this sensitive time.

“I have been speaking with police chiefs around the world who, along with their officers, are facing enormous pressure because of COVID-19,” said Secretary General Stock.

“To help them in their work, these guidelines outline both the current and emerging crime threats linked to this pandemic as well as advice on how officers should protect themselves, and the communities they serve.

“We are in this together, and INTERPOL will continue to provide whatever assistance our 194 member countries need,” added the INTERPOL Chief.

INTERPOLʼs secure global communications network I-24/7 ensures vital policing information continues to get where it is needed.

Its specialist crime units will share the latest trends and threats related to COVID-19, with its Command and Coordination Centre ensuring calls for assistance are answered.

Source: Interpol, 26 March 2020

WCO-WTO join forces to minimise disruptions to cross-border trade in goods

The heads of the World Customs Organization (WCO) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) issued a joint statement on 6 April pledging to work together to facilitate trade in essential goods such as medical supplies, food, and energy.

WCO Secretary General Dr. Kunio Mikuriya and WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo said the two organizations would work closely together to minimize disruption to cross-border trade in goods – in particular those essential to combat the COVID-19 pandemic – while safeguarding public health.

They also pledged to establish a coordinated approach to support initiatives that facilitate cross-border trade so that essential goods can quickly reach those most in need, including in least developed and land-locked countries. WCO and WTO members have already been invited to increase transparency by sharing information on new trade and trade-related measures introduced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As COVID-19 continues to spread globally and governments consider new measures to protect the health and well-being of their citizens, we urge Members to ensure that any new border action is targeted, proportionate, transparent and non-discriminatory,” they declared.

The text of the joint statement is below.

WCO-WTO Joint Statement on COVID-19 related trade measures

The COVID-19 pandemic, while above all a public health crisis, presents the world with unprecedented social and economic challenges.  Emergency measures needed to curb the spread of the disease have unintended impacts on the world economy and trade, including the global supply chains that produce and distribute essential goods such as medical supplies, food, and energy.

To support the ongoing efforts to mitigate the social and economic effects of the pandemic, we, the Secretariats of the World Customs Organization (WCO) and the World Trade Organization (WTO), agree to work closely together to minimize disruption to cross-border trade in goods – in particular those essential to combat COVID-19 – while safeguarding public health. We commit to provide appropriate support to all relevant stakeholders. 

Within our respective mandates, we have already invited Members to increase transparency by sharing information on new trade and trade-related measures introduced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. To the extent appropriate, we are making such information publicly available through our respective websites.  

We are also willing to establish a coordinated approach in support of initiatives that facilitate cross-border trade in goods, in particular those key to combat COVID-19. This would allow that essential goods can quickly reach those most in need, including in least developed and land-locked countries.

As COVID-19 continues to spread globally and governments consider new measures to protect the health and well-being of their citizens, we urge Members to ensure that any new border action is targeted, proportionate, transparent and non-discriminatory – as agreed by G20 leaders. We stress that these measures should be temporary, and we encourage Members to rescind them once they are no longer needed, especially if they restrict trade. We welcome initiatives to facilitate and simplify cross-border procedures and urge our Members to prioritize those for exporting and importing essential goods. 

As the pandemic evolves, we will continue to further explore ways to coordinate the efforts of the two organizations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic aimed at keeping trade flows open for the safety of populations around the world and a strong recovery of the global economy.

Source: WCO webpage, 6 April 2020

World Bank -Trade and COVID-19 (Coronavirus)

Photo: Martin Sanchez, Unsplash

Maintaining trade flows during the COVID-19 pandemic will be crucial in providing access to essential food and medical items and in limiting negative impacts on jobs and poverty.

The speed and scale of the crisis are unprecedented. But governments can ameliorate the impact. The following documents, hyperlinked to this page provide initial guidance for policymakers on best practices to mitigate pandemic-related trade risks, support trade facilitation and logistics, and implement trade policy in a time of crisis.

Managing Risk and Facilitating Trade in the COVID-19 Pandemic

Maintaining trade flows as much as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic will be crucial in providing access to essential food and medical items and in limiting negative impacts on jobs and poverty.

Some countries are closing border crossings and implementing protectionist measures such as restricting exports of critical medical supplies. Although these measures may in the short-term provide some immediate reduction in the spread of the disease, in the medium term they may undermine health protection, as countries lose access to essential products to fight the pandemic. Instead, governments should refrain from introducing new barriers to trade and consider removing import tariffs and other taxes at the border on critical medical equipment and products, including food, to support the health response.

Trade facilitation measures can contribute to the response to the crisis by expediting the movement, release, and clearance of goods, including goods in transit. The World Bank Group provides guidance and technical assistance to developing and least developed countries to implement best practices to facilitate the free flow of goods.

Download the Guideline here!

Do’s and Don’ts of Trade Policy in Response to COVID-19

Despite the initial inclination of policy makers to close borders, maintaining trade flows during the COVID-19 pandemic will be crucial. Trade in both goods and services will play a key role in overcoming the pandemic and limiting its impact in the following ways:

  • by providing access to essential medical goods (including material inputs for their production) and services to help contain the pandemic and treat those affected,
  • ensuring access to food throughout the world,
  • providing farmers with necessary inputs (seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, equipment, veterinary products)for the next harvest,
  • by supporting jobs and maintaining economic activity in the face of a global recession. Substantialdisruption to regional and global value chains will reduce employment and increase poverty.Trade policies will therefore be an essential instrument in the management of the crisis.

Trade policy reforms, such as tariff reductions, can contribute:

  • to reducing the cost and improving the availability of COVID-19 goods and services,
  • to reducing tax and administrative burdens on importers and exporters,
  • to reducing the cost of food and other products heavily consumed by the poor and contributing to themacro-economic measures introduced to limit the negative economic and social impact of the COVID-19 related downturn,
  • to supporting the eventual economic recovery and building resilience to future crises.

Governments with industries producing COVID-19 medical goods or food staples can further contribute by committing to refrain from limiting exports through bans or taxes. If export restrictions must be used, then they should be targeted, proportionate, transparent, and temporary.Measures to streamline trade procedures and facilitate trade at borders can contribute to the response to the crisis by expediting the movement, release, and clearance of goods, including goods in transit, and enabling exchange of services.

Reforms can be designed to reduce the need for close contact between traders, transporters and border officials so as to protect stakeholders and limit the spread of the virus, while maintaining essential assessments to ensure revenue, health and security. Interventions to sustain and enhance the efficiency of logistics operations may also be critical in avoiding substantial disruption to distribution networks and hence to regional and global value chains.

Download the Guideline here!

Trade in Critical COVID-19 Products

The covid-19 pandemic is increasingly a concern for developing countries. Using a new database on trade in covid-19 relevant products, this paper looks at the role of trade policy to address the looming health crisis in developing countries with highest numbers of recorded cases. It shows that export restrictions by leading producers could cause significant disruption in supplies and contribute to price increases. Tariffs and other restrictions to imports further impair the flow of critical products to developing countries. 

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Also view the Blog post – Viral protectionism in the time of coronavirus

Source: World Bank, 1April, 2020