The World Trade Organization (WTO) Director-General's latest annual overview of trade-related developments shows a marked decrease in the number of trade-restrictive and trade-facilitating measures adopted by the WTO members over the past year.
The measures were related to goods trade, said a press release.
The decrease observed in regular measures between mid-October 2019 and mid-October 2020 was mainly the result of the sharp decline in overall global trade since the Covid-19 outbreak.
The report was presented at a meeting of the WTO's Trade Policy Review Body (TPRB) on 11 December.
The document at the same time provides information about the numerous trade-facilitating and support measures introduced by WTO economies in order to ensure a solid economic recovery from the pandemic.
The report reflects the impact the global health crisis has had on trade and trade policy more fully than the previous report issued in July 2020.
The report of July captured only the very early effects of the pandemic.
Although world trade was slowing before the Covid-19 outbreak, merchandise exports in nominal USD terms were down 21% in the second quarter of 2020 compared to the previous year, while commercial services exports were down 30%.
In presenting the report to members, Deputy Director-General Yonov Frederick Agah said, "I believe that the regular monitoring of support measures introduced in the context of the pandemic will be important for members and will enable them to track the evolution and effects of such measures as the world exits the health crisis and enters a recovery period."
"There is no doubt in my mind that keeping international trade and investment flows open will be critical to rebuilding economies, businesses and livelihoods around the world as we prepare for a sustainable exit from the pandemic," he added.
The report notes that WTO members and observers introduced the lowest number of "regular" trade-related measures since 2012 - that is, those unrelated to the pandemic.
The trade coverage of import-facilitating measures over the past year stood at $731.3 billion (up from $544.7 billion in the previous period) while that of import-restrictive measures came in at $440.9 billion (down from $746.9 billion).
This was likely a result of the sharp decline in overall global trade flows, governments shifting attention towards fighting the pandemic, relative easing of bilateral trade tensions that had elevated the trade coverage of import restrictions in earlier reporting periods.
A significant amount of global trade was affected by trade measures directly linked to the pandemic.
Covid-19 related trade-facilitating measures implemented since the beginning of the pandemic covered an estimated $227 billion of goods trade, while Covid-19 trade-restrictive measures covered trade worth $180 billion.
Of the 335 Covid-19 trade and trade-related goods measures recorded since the outbreak of the pandemic, 58% were of a trade-facilitating nature and 42% were trading restrictive.
Around 39% of restrictive measures on goods adopted by WTO members and observers in the immediate wake of the pandemic were repealed by mid-October 2020.
Most of the 124 Covid-19 related measures adopted by WTO members in the heavily impacted services sector appeared to be trade facilitating.
Over 1,000 support measures in direct response to the pandemic were put in place up to mid-October and were collectively worth several trillion US dollars.
The report indicates that the number and variety of support measures implemented in response to the economic and social turmoil caused by Covid-19 are greater than that witnessed during the 2008-09 global financial crisis.
These emergency support measures are central to governments' strategies to address the pandemic-induced economic downturn.
The measures appear to be temporary in nature and are important in preparing the ground for a sustainable recovery in which trade can play an important role.
WTO Secretariat estimates indicate that by the end of 2019 the cumulative trade coverage of import restrictions on goods implemented by WTO members and observers since 2009 and still in force affected 8.7% of world imports ($1.6 trillion out of a total $18.9 trillion).
WTO estimates for 2020 suggest that the stockpile of import restrictions continues to grow and that the roll-back of restrictions is minimal.
The report also shows a significant increase in trade remedy initiations during the review period, confirming that these measures remain an important trade policy tool for WTO members.
In addition, many intellectual property (IP) measures were introduced during the review period aimed at facilitating access to Covid-19-related health technologies.
Overall, some 60 Covid-19 related IP measures were introduced during the review period.