WTO: Trade restrictions among G20 still at historic high levels

by Hans Diederichs

The WTO’s 21st Monitoring Report on G20 trade measures issued on 24 June shows that the trade coverage of new import-restrictive measures introduced during the period (October 2018 to May 2019) was more than 3.5 times the average since May 2012 when the report started including trade coverage figures. The report found that trade coverage of USD 335.9 billion during the period is the second highest figure on record, after the USD 480.9 billion reported in the previous period. Together, these two periods represent a dramatic spike in the trade coverage of import-restrictive measures, leading WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo to call on G20 economies to work together urgently to ease trade tensions.

Commenting on the report, Director-General Roberto Azevêdo said: “This report provides further evidence that the turbulence generated by current trade tensions is continuing, with trade flows being hit by new trade restrictions on a historically high level. The stable trend that we saw for almost a decade since the financial crisis has been replaced with a steep increase in the size and scale of trade-restrictive measures over the last year. This will have consequences in increased uncertainty, lower investment and weaker trade growth.

“These findings should be of serious concern for the whole international community. We urgently need to see leadership from the G20 to ease trade tensions and follow through on their commitment to trade and to the rules-based international trading system.”

The Report shows that turbulence in global trade continued during the period. The previous period saw a record level of new restrictive measures introduced. Most of these measures remain in place and have now been added to by a series of new measures in the current period which are also of a historically high level. In addition, several significant trade-restrictive measures are being considered for potential later implementation. This further compounds the challenges and uncertainty faced by governments, businesses and consumers in the current global economic environment.

In terms of numbers, G20 economies implemented 20 new trade-restrictive measures between mid-October 2018 and mid-May 2019, including tariff increases, import bans and new customs procedures for exports. While fewer measures were introduced during this review period than in previous periods, the scale of those measures is much increased in terms of their trade coverage and the level of tariffs imposed.

A total of 29 new measures aimed at facilitating trade, including eliminating or reducing import tariffs, export duties and eliminating or simplifying customs procedures for exports were also applied by G20 economies. The trade coverage of the import-facilitating measures implemented during the review period is estimated at USD 397.2 billion, which is 1.8 times higher than in the previous G20 Report. At four new trade-facilitating measures per month, this is the lowest monthly average registered since 2012.

For the first time since the beginning of the trade monitoring exercise, the number of initiations of trade remedy investigations by G20 economies is equal to the number of trade remedy actions terminated. Initiations of anti-dumping investigations continue to be the most frequent trade remedy action, accounting for more than three-quarters of all initiations.

The WTO trade monitoring reports have been prepared by the WTO Secretariat since 2009. G20 members are Argentina; Australia; Brazil; Canada; China; the European Union; France; Germany; India; Indonesia; Italy; Japan; the Republic of Korea; Mexico; the Russian Federation; Saudi Arabia; South Africa; Turkey; the United Kingdom; and the United States.

Source and graphic: WTO

Go back