The number and coverage of both trade-restrictive and trade-facilitating measures implemented by G-20 economies slowed enormously between mid-May and mid-October 2020, primarily as a result of the sharp decline in overall global trade due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new World Trade Organization report.

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According to the WTO, the trade coverage of regular (non-COVID-related) measures to facilitate or restrict trade plummeted from $735.9 billion to $36.8 billion and from $417.5 billion to $42.9 billion, respectively, from the previous period. Possible explanations for this decline include the record-breaking 14.3 percent drop in global goods trade in the second quarter, resulting in “less commerce to either facilitate or restrict,” as well as governments focusing less on designing and implementing regular trade policies and more on dealing with more immediate trade issues in the context of the pandemic. However, the WTO estimates that 10.4 percent of all G-20 imports remain affected by restrictions imposed over the past decade and notes that the stockpile of such restrictions continues to grow in both value terms and as a percentage of imports.

At the same time, COVID-related trade measures imposed since January 2020 totaled $155 billion (facilitating) and $111 billion (restrictive). However, these measures are being eliminated at a faster rate than those not related to COVID, with about 27 percent of restrictive measures and 21 percent of facilitating measures having been repealed by mid-October. Among other things, export restrictions on products such as surgical masks, gloves, medicine, and disinfectants continue to be phased out.

The report notes that from May to October G-20 members significantly increased the number of new trade remedy investigations to 165, a monthly average (33) that was the highest since 2012, and only terminated 35 trade remedy actions. The trade coverage of new investigations was an estimated $34.1 billion, up from $24.5 billion in the previous period, compared to $2 billion for terminations (up from $1.9 billion).

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