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Covid-19, Export Restrictions, and the WTO: Magnifying Global Divisions in a Time of Crisis

Lawrence, Jessica (2020) 'Covid-19, Export Restrictions, and the WTO: Magnifying Global Divisions in a Time of Crisis.' In: Ferstman, Carla and Fagan, Andrew, (eds.) Covid-19, Law and Human Rights : Essex Dialogues. A Project of the School of Law and Human Rights Centre. University of Essex, 107 - 115. ISBN 978-1-5272-6632-2

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Trade policy has been an important part of the global response to Covid-19. In order to boost production and increase the supply of critical goods, countries have lowered tariff barriers, put export restrictions in place, and smoothed the path to issue compulsory licenses for patented medicines and medical devices. All of these measures touch on trade policy, and fall under the ambit of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). This raises the question: do the flexibilities built into WTO law give countries the policy space they need to take emergency measures during this health crisis? This short paper explains the WTO rules and their application to national trade measures in response to Covid-19 using the example of export restrictions. It finds that from a legal perspective, WTO rules are flexible enough to permit countries to deviate from their normal obligations during this time of crisis. However, from a justice perspective, these flexibilities will be far more useful for wealthy developed states than for those with less purchasing power and production capacity. Indeed, the flexibility built into WTO law may prove ineffectual—and even detrimental—for poorer states, as it permits the wealthy the policy space to take measures in their own interest while leaving the less powerful without access to critical goods. The paper concludes that here, as elsewhere, the negative economic effects of Covid-19 will fall disproportionately on the poor and the vulnerable.

Item Type: Book Section
Divisions: Faculty of Humanities > Law, School of
Depositing User: Elements
Date Deposited: 30 Jun 2020 12:55
Last Modified: 30 Jun 2020 14:15

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