Open trade to ensure flow of vital medical supplies

WTO, WHO chiefs urge the nations amid COVID-19 pandemic

open trade
L-R: WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) and World Health Organization (WHO) have urged the governments to open trade for ensuring the normal cross-border flow of vital medical supplies and other goods and services during this critical global situation of COVID-19 pandemic.

Director-General of WTO Roberto Azevêdo and Director-General of WHO Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a joint statement yesterday (Monday) called upon the governments to avoid measures that can disrupt supply chains and negatively impact the poorest and most vulnerable.

They expressed concern notably over developing and least developed countries that are typically reliant on imports of medicines and medical equipment.

“We call on our Members to continue to share information about their measures with WHO and WTO, in line with the established transparency mechanisms, which are now especially valuable in supporting a coordinated response,” they said.

They underlined their support for efforts to ensure the normal cross-border flow of vital medical supplies and other goods and services.

WHO and WTO are working together to resolve unnecessary disruptions to global supply chains, in furtherance of the International Health Regulations (2005) and WTO rules.

“Protecting lives is our top priority, and these efforts can be impeded by unnecessary disruptions to global trade and supply chains,” they said in the statement.

They said COVID-19 has rapidly progressed to become a global pandemic, causing unprecedented, far-reaching impact on the health, social and economic well-being of communities around the world.

WTO and WHO are committed to responding effectively to the situation, working together with other international organisations and respective memberships.

Global, coordinated action is required to deal with the extraordinary challenges the pandemic poses to people’s health as well as their livelihoods, reads the statement.

“Governments’ trade policy decisions significantly influence both getting medical equipment and supplies to where they are urgently needed and catalyzing the supply of critical inputs for the production of medicines and health technologies to fight the pandemic,” the said.

“Keeping trade in health technologies as open and predictable as possible is therefore of vital interest.”

This will help countries to respond to this crisis, to recover from it and to build the health systems that will foster greater resilience in the future.

To ensure that health technologies, including diagnostics, medicines, vaccines and other medical supplies vital to treating patients infected by COVID-19, reach those in need quickly, they emphasised the importance of streamlining conformity checks based on regulatory cooperation and international standards.

“While we are heartened by the remarkable research efforts and the rapid mobilization of public and private resources to develop COVID-19 health technologies, we call upon governments to implement policy measures that can further facilitate their research and development, and to promote their rapid dissemination within countries and across borders so as to ensure equitable access to those technologies,” the statement reads.

Such initiatives include targeted investment, ensuring open access to clinical test results, the sharing of relevant intellectual property rights, increasing manufacturing capacity, open and transparent procurement regimes, the elimination of tariffs on relevant health technologies, and trade facilitation measures to reduce costs and delays.

“Global action, solidarity and international cooperation are more necessary than ever to address this health situation. WHO and the WTO are working together to play their part,” said the joint statement.

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