BACK TO MAIN  |  ONLINE BOOKSTORE  |  HOW TO ORDER

TWN Info Service on Health Issues (Apr20/02)
1 April 2020
Third World Network  

G20 to ensure flow of vital supplies to fight COVID-19
Published in SUNS #9091 dated 31 March 2020

Geneva, 30 Mar (D. Ravi Kanth) — Trade ministers from major developed and developing countries of the Group of 20 (G20) are expected to reiterate on 30 March that they would ensure “the controlled flow of vital medical supplies and equipment, agricultural products, and other essential goods and services for supporting the health of our citizens,” in fighting COVID-19.

The COVID-19 respiratory disease has already claimed more than 10,000 lives, with the US, the world’s largest economy, expected to witness the loss of around 200,000 lives, according to US President Donald Trump.

Against this backdrop, the “extraordinary trade ministers’ (teleconference) meeting” of the G20 ought to have come out with a robust warlike plan in its draft statement, said a capital-based trade official, who spoke to the SUNS on condition of anonymity.

Instead, the draft statement, obtained by the SUNS on Sunday, failed to reflect the magnitude of the grave COVID-19 crisis, commented a capital-based trade official, who asked not to be quoted.

The statement emphasized that G20 countries “will take the necessary measures to facilitate trade in essential goods, including by reducing import barriers and expediting customs procedures.”

The draft statement, released as a draft zero document, is expected to undergo changes based on the G20 members’ comments and discussions on 30 March.

The G20 was established in Washington in 2008 after the financial crisis that was triggered off by Wall Street through reckless financialization.

Subsequently, the G20 became a major forum for reforms, though, without much teeth. The G20 is currently under the presidency of Saudi Arabia, and it includes the United States, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Canada, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, China, India, Indonesia, South Korea, Australia, Italy, Japan, Russia, Turkey, and the European Union.

The draft G20 statement says that “we will cooperate to support the availability of essential medical supplies and pharmaceuticals by encouraging additional production through incentives and targeted investment.”

It adds, “we will guard against profiteering and unjustified price increases.”

But the G20 did not suggest whether the provisions of the TRIPS (trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights) Agreement need to be relaxed in combating COVID-19.

The draft also failed to suggest explicitly that countries must use the compulsory licensing route for manufacturing existing or new patented medicines for fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

Significantly, several countries such as Israel, Ecuador, and Germany among others have already indicated that they will use compulsory licensing for new patented drugs.

The G20 draft says that “we are concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on developing and least developed countries,” but did not indicate any concrete relief-measures for developing countries and LDCs who are facing a massive economic crisis.

[A forthcoming UNCTAD special report is expected to quantify and call for a special aid package for developing countries. The UNDP is also expected to issue such an appeal. SUNS]

The G20 draft expresses concern “about the daunting challenges facing businesses, mainly micro, small and medium-sized enterprises.”

The draft acknowledged that “prolonged restrictive measures could have devastating impacts on businesses, and our citizens.”

Prior to the G20 trade ministers’ meeting, the South Centre has suggested to its members several intellectual property and trade measures to address the COVID-19 crisis.

The South Centre said that “a coordinated global effort is required to ensure access to affordable, safe, and effective treatments, diagnostics and vaccines that are developed, as well as access to medical supplies and devices.”

The South Centre expressed concern over “the attempts by some governments and industry players to monopolize the availability of those products for their own national agenda or to maximize profit, ahead of the societal interest in tackling this global public health emergency [COVID-19 pandemic].”

More worryingly, “the private enforcement of patents and government trade restrictions may pose a dire threat to the containment of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the South Centre said.

Against this backdrop, “governments should act swiftly to put in place legislation and plans to ensure that patents and trade measures do not become barriers for access to treatment, diagnostics, medicines and medical supplies and devices needed,” the South Centre emphasized.

It urged governments to take the following actions:

* Take policy and legislative measures to ensure that patents and other intellectual property do not erect barriers to access to medicines, diagnostics, vaccines and medical devices and supplies.

* Streamline and plan to make use of legislative measures to permit the compulsory licensing or government use of products that are protected by patents.

* Provide the exceptions and waivers in case data exclusivity regulations would prevent the marketing approval of generics and biosimilars.

In contrast to South Centre’s call for action, the G20 draft statement appears to be not only weak but fails to provide appropriate guidance, according to capital-based trade officials, who spoke to the SUNS on 29 March.

The G20 draft statement said that “we agree that such measures, if deemed necessary, must be proportionate, temporary and we should refrain from introducing unnecessary interference with international traffic and trade.”

The G20 trade ministers “highlight the importance of exchanging information on the application of such measures which will enable supply chains to continue to function in the crisis, while expediting the recovery that will follow.”

After “America first” trade measures, including the use of Section 232 measures, the special 301 measures, and now claiming the use of the US Defence Production Act, global supply chains remain badly disrupted, according to several studies.

More importantly, the G20 draft statement says that the G20 trade ministers “will continue to pursue our goal of realizing a free, fair, non-discriminatory, transparent, predictable and stable trade and investment environment, and to keep our markets open.”

However, the G20 draft statement remained silent on the need to refrain from “unilateral trade measures”.

“We will convene again, as necessary, and we task the Trade and Investment Working Group to identify additional proposed actions that could help alleviate the economic impact of COVID-19,” it has argued.

The text of the G20 draft statement of 27 March 2020 is as follows:

“Extraordinary G20 Trade Ministers’ Meeting

Statement on COVID-19

We, the Trade Ministers of the G20, are profoundly saddened by the devastating human tragedy caused by the spread of COVID-19. The pandemic is a global challenge and requires a global response. The G20 Leaders, following their Extraordinary Meeting conducted on 26 March 2020, committed “to presenting a united front against this common threat.” Now more than ever is the time for the international community to step up cooperation and coordination to protect human life, while laying the foundations for a strong economic recovery after this crisis.

We will continue monitoring and assessing the impact of the pandemic on trade as per the task entrusted by our Leaders.

We are actively working to ensure the continued flow of vital medical supplies and equipment, agricultural products, and other essential goods and services, for supporting the health of our citizens. We will take the necessary measures to facilitate trade in essential goods, including by reducing import barriers and expediting customs procedures. We will cooperate to support the availability of essential medical supplies and pharmaceuticals by encouraging additional production through incentives and targeted investment. We will guard against profiteering and unjustified price increases.

We are concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on developing and least developed countries. We are also concerned about the daunting challenges facing businesses, mainly micro, small and medium-sized enterprises.

Prolonged restrictive measures could have devastating impacts on businesses, and our citizens. We agree that such measures, if deemed necessary, must be proportionate, temporary and we should refrain from introducing unnecessary interference with international traffic and trade. We highlight the importance of exchanging information on the application of such measures which will enable supply chains to continue to function in the crisis, while expediting the recovery that will follow.

We are in constant contact with the relevant international organizations and will continue to work with them to collect and disseminate good practices and trade measures for countries seeking to mitigate major risks.

We will continue to pursue our goal of realizing a free, fair, non-discriminatory, transparent, predictable and stable trade and investment environment, and to keep our markets open.

We will convene again, as necessary, and we task the Trade and Investment Working Group to identify additional proposed actions that could help alleviate the economic impact of COVID-19.”

 


BACK TO MAIN  |  ONLINE BOOKSTORE  |  HOW TO ORDER