Global institutions news – Post date: May 25th, 2020.

Standards and regulations notified to WTO in response to COVID-19

A World Trade Organization Information Note (20 May) describes the standards and regulations that members have notified in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, submitted under the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) and the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS).

WTO Members can adopt emergency measures and notify them to the WTO without the usual 60-day comment period (or six-month transition period prior to entry into force). However, they still need to comply with the SPS and TBT Agreements (avoiding discriminatory or unnecessary barriers to trade, ensuring a scientific basis for measures, and harmonising with international standards).

90% of the emergency COVID-related measures were identified as trade-facilitating, and around half are reported as temporary, often applying for a period of six months.

Around two-thirds of notifications by WTO members in response to COVID-19 are related to standards and regulations (TBT and SPS). These have been notified by 27 members.

The standards, regulations and related measures notified by WTO members mainly affect trade in personal protective equipment (PPE), food, live animals and medical equipment.

The notified measures fall into four broad categories: streamlining certification procedures; ensuring that medical goods are safe; making food available by relaxing technical regulations; and addressing COVID-19 risks from international trade in live animals.

IFPRI: Tracking policy responses to COVID-19

IFPRI has just launched a COVID-19 Policy Response (CPR) portal that displays policy responses in nine different domains for 18 countries, including nine in Sub-Saharan Africa. For example, the tracker currently records farm fiscal policies for six of the nine countries in SSA: Senegal, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Zambia. The portal will be updated regularly as new responses emerge.

STDF webinar: Future-proofing safe trade

On 26 May the Standards and Trade Development Facility (STDF) is hosting an expert-led webinar: “Future-proofing safe trade during COVID-19”.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, livelihoods worldwide are being affected with an unprecedented disruption of businesses and delays at borders, while the impact is felt across global supply chains. For developing countries, where health systems, infrastructure and resources face longstanding gaps, governments and the private sector, including MSMEs, now face huge challenges to respond. The virtual discussion will cover how we can meet developing countries’ safe trade needs during COVID-19; and what we can do to design future-proof safe trade solutions. Speakers are from FAO, World Bank Group, WHO, WTO, the Codex Alimentarius Commission and IPPC, as well as STDF.

United Nations Policy Brief on the impact of COVID-19 in Africa

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has said that the developed world could learn lessons from the preventive measures taken by many African countries to stem the spread of the coronavirus (UN Press Office, 20 May). There have been fewer than 3,000 COVID-19 deaths from 88,000 cases of the disease registered throughout the African continent, relatively low numbers compared to over 320,000 deaths worldwide.

But the Secretary General points out that much hangs in the balance. The new Policy Brief calls for international action to strengthen Africa’s health systems, maintain food supplies, avoid a financial crisis, and cushion the continent against lost income and export earnings. In relation to food security, it notes that

  • It is important to prioritise agriculture by declaring it a critical sector that should not be interrupted by COVID-19 related measures – food corridors need to be secured, and farmers supported, to ensure uninterrupted supplies and food security.
  • The pandemic, along with a second wave of desert locusts threatening East Africa, present an alarming threat to food security and livelihoods in the Horn of Africa.
  • Recommendations for food security include:
    • Focus where risks are most acute, strengthen social protection systems and safeguard access to food for the most vulnerable groups.
    • Designate the agriculture sector an essential economic activity that must continue regardless of pandemic-related emergency restrictions.
    • Establish and protect food supply corridors (for collection, transport and distribution to markets), especially for landlocked and island states.
    • Measures such as temporary reduction of taxes on food should be encouraged.
    • Africa’s development partners should ease existing export restrictions, including export bans on food.
    • Looking at the road to recovery, the document points out the need for renewed efforts to boost sustainable food systems and trade: “Durable solutions for food security require investments in irrigation, storage, transport, and agri-processing systems to boost production, reduce post-harvest losses and volatility in the supply and price of food.”

Impacts of COVID-19 on SMEs in the food system

The Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Business Network (co-convened by the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, GAIN and the World Food Programme, WFP) has undertaken a survey of food system SMEs in 17 countries, aiming to assess the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and associated control measures on their businesses and to identify their support needs.

363 responses were received, with most being from micro- or small-sized firms, primarily in the processing and distribution sectors, as well as grains, vegetables, and fruit value chains. The survey results revealed that:

  • 94% reported being impacted by the pandemic, mainly via decreased sales (82%), difficulty accessing inputs (49%), and difficulty paying staff (44%).
  • 84% of firms reported changing their production volume as a result of the pandemic, generally decreasing it; 57% had changed their product’s sales price.
  • 85% of respondents anticipated future impacts on their supply chains, including shortages of supplies (61%) and transportation and distribution disruptions (49%).
  • 80% and 84% of firms reported taking actions to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on their business and to protect their employees, respectively.
  • 81% and 64% of firms reported urgently needing financial and technical support, respectively, to cope with the effects of the pandemic.
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