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WTO issues new report on worldwide trade in COVID-19 medical products

The World Trade Organisation, WTO, Secretariat has released a new report on trade in medical products critical for the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The report traces trade flows for products such as personal protective products, hospital and laboratory supplies, medicines and medical technology while providing information on their respective tariffs.

Trade in medical products which have now been described as critical and in severe shortage during the COVID-19 crisis totalled about US$ 597 billion in 2019, accounting for 1.7 percent of total world merchandise trade according to the report. The ten largest supplying economies accounted for almost three-quarters of total world exports of the products while the ten largest buyers accounted for roughly two-thirds of world imports.

Commitments made under various WTO negotiations and agreements have helped slash import tariffs on these products and improve market access, with the average tariff on COVID-19 medical products standing at 4.8 percent, lower than the 7.6 percent average tariff for non-agricultural products in general. The statistics show that 52 percent of 134 WTO members impose a tariff of 5 percent or lower on medical products. Among them, four members do not levy any tariffs at all: Hong Kong, China; Iceland; Macao, China; and Singapore. The report, however, also identifies markets where tariffs remain high. Tariffs on face masks, for example, can be as high as 55 percent in some countries.

Key points Germany, the United States and Switzerland supply 35 percent of medical products; China, Germany and the United States export 40 percent of personal protective products; Imports and exports of medical products totalled about US$ 2 trillion, including intra-EU trade, which represented approximately 5 percent of total world merchandise trade in 2019; Trade of products described as critical and in severe shortage in the COVID-19 crisis totalled about US$ 597 billion, or 1.7 percent of total world trade in 2019; Tariffs on some products remain very high. For example, the average applied tariff for hand soap is 17 percent and some WTO members apply tariffs as high as 65 percent; Protective supplies used in the fight against COVID-19 attract an average tariff of 11.5 percent and go as high as 27 percent in some countries.