UK commits to WTO while outlining plan to help developing countries through COVID-19

Tue 26 May 2020
Posted by: Sam Pileggi
Trade News

WTO flag

In front of a WTO meeting of its Committee on Trade and Development in Geneva today, the UK set out its agenda for helping developing countries trade through COVID-19.

Andy Staines, the UK's Deputy Permanent Representative to the World Trade Organization in Geneva, told a meeting today that the measures to control COVID-19 could “potentially jeopardise decades of hard-fought, trade-led prosperity” in developing countries.

He also emphasised how the UK support the WTO, recently beset with issues such as the rise of protectionism in countries such as the US and China, and the resignation earlier this month of the organisation’s director general, Roberto Azevedo.

The WTO “has a major role to play… it is still the world’s leading platform for discussing global trade…and where initiatives to mitigate the global economic crisis to come [are] launched,” Staines said.

Trade shocks

The UK was concerned, Staines said, that many “low and lower middle income countries are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 because of the exposure to international shocks, lack of financial stability and macroeconomic imbalances”.

Staines urged developing countries to “be leaders” in WTO discussions on mitigating the trade disruption of COVID-19.

He outlined the measures the UK is taking to keep supply chains open and to offset the immediate impacts. 

1. The UK’s existing Aid For Trade programmes have been reoriented to work with affected businesses and support developing country who are WTO members. The aim is to help countries and business “make proportionate, evidence-based trade-offs between virus containment and open trade”. 

2. The UK is also working to protect key supply chains and trade routes so that essential goods and services, including critical medical and food supplies, reach the most vulnerable.

3. Through the UK’s Trade and Investment Advocacy Fund and funding of the World Bank, the UK is supporting developing country WTO members. 

As a result of all these measures, those countries would “better understand the trade-related impacts of COVID-19 on their economies, notify COVID-related measures to the WTO’s monitoring exercise, and tackle the COVID crisis through better trade facilitation”.

Staines’ comments come after a G20 meeting on 14 May agreed a package of humanitarian aid for the worst affected developing nations.