TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Mar20/05)
4 March 2020
Third World Network

MC12 to begin as scheduled despite COVID-19, says Kazakhstan official
Published in SUNS #9080 dated 3 March 2020

Geneva, 2 Mar (D. Ravi Kanth) -- The World Trade Organization's 12th ministerial conference (MC12), scheduled to begin in Nur Sultan, Kazakhstan, on 8 June, remains unchanged as of now, despite the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) to several countries, a Kazakhstan trade official told the SUNS.

Clarifying the recent measures introduced by the Kazakhstan government on passengers arriving from a number of countries infected with COVID-19, the official said that "as of 1 March 2020, the Government of Kazakhstan introduced measures applied to passengers arriving from a number of countries not to allow spread of Coronavirus COVID-19 in the country."

"In particular, passengers arriving from China and Iran will be isolated in a hospital for 14 days if they visited these countries within the last 14 days. Visitors from Japan, Italy and South Korea are subject to 14-day quarantine in their homes," the official said.

The official stated that "these are  all temporary preventive measures introduced with the objective to protect public health," adding that "all future  measures will depend on further development of the situation."

"In case, there is a concrete decision related to MC12, Kazakhstan will inform the WTO Secretariat and members in due course," the official stated.

Recently, the Kazakhstan government announced compulsory home quarantine for people arriving from Thailand and several other countries to address the current situation.

Visitors from Thailand, Australia, France, Germany, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, the United States, Vietnam, and China, are expected to be subjected to the 14-day house quarantine.

The 12th ministerial conference is expected to conclude a major agreement on fisheries subsidies and also address several contentious issues such as the changing of the negotiating function to bring about differentiation among developing countries for availing special and differential treatment (S&DT), transforming the WTO into a market-based framework, and stringent "naming and shaming" provisions for non-compliance of notifications among others.

Meanwhile, in an op-ed article in the New York Times on 1 March, titled "the Coronavirus has put the world economy in survival mode",  Cornell University economist Eswar Prasad cautioned that "whether or not the coronavirus turns into a global pandemic, the outbreak is already infecting economies and financial markets around the world."

"While governments try to navigate the fine line between being prepared and setting off panic, the economic costs are growing as countries and communities try to control the spread of the disease," he warned.

According to Prasad, "the hopeful narrative about 2020 heralding a modest rebound in global growth now lies in ruins."

With Europe having stagnated and Japan's economy having shrank during the last quarter of 2019, and with China and India having lost momentum, the coronavirus "has put the world economy in survival mode," he argued.

"The spread of the virus is hurting travel, trade and supply chains worldwide," Prasad said.

According to Prasad,  the disruption of supply chains, especially those that pass through Asia, is hurting businesses in multiple dimensions.

Countries such as China, South Korea and Japan are critical to the supply chains for products ranging from plastic toys to iPhones to high-tech machinery.

In these countries, manufacturers who can't get raw materials delivered reliably, are facing worker shortages and having difficulty shipping out products.

"Re-jiggering supply chains takes months, if not years. If the coronavirus spreads and causes disruptions to other major economies, it could wreak further havoc on supply chains," he said. +