A majority of trade-restrictive measures taken by countries in response to the Covid-19 pandemic have been rolled back as at May 2021, according to the latest ‘Trade Policy Review’ by the WTO Director General. This is a revealing insight at a time when Sri Lanka continues with trade-restrictive measures undertaken since March last year.
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, 384 COVID-19-related trade measures with regard to goods (merchandise) trade have been implemented by WTO members, of which 248 (65%) were trade-facilitating in nature and 136 (35%) were considered trade restrictive. The majority of trade measures by countries were restrictions on exports (around 84%) (and specifically relating to the health sector – medical equipment and health-related items), unlike in Sri Lanka where the majority of trade measures were restrictions on imports (and were largely across the board than specifically in a sector).
The reduction or elimination of import tariffs and import taxes accounted for 60% of trade-facilitating measures taken, and several countries reduced tariffs on goods such as personal protective equipment (PPE), sanitizers, disinfectants, medical equipment and medicines/drugs.
Many of the trade measures taken by countries during the pandemic are now being rolled back. As of mid-May 2021, around 21% of COVID-19 trade-facilitating measures and 54% of the COVID-19 trade-restrictive measures had been terminated, suggesting a faster normalizing of trade policies by most countries. Sri Lanka, however, continues to maintain most of the trade restrictions (on imports) introduced at the onset of the pandemic and associated economic troubles and balance of payments constraints, while continuing to make frequent changes by way of gazettes and notifications by the Customs and the Department of Import and Export Control.