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WTO Members facilitate imports but many food export restrictions persist

The latest Director-General’s mid-year report on trade-related developments arrives at a time when the global economy continues to be affected by multiple crises. The continuing war in Ukraine, events related to climate change, high food and energy prices, and inflation, as well as the lingering ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic, are having serious implications for the global economic environment. 

The overall findings of this Report reveal that, between mid-October 2022 and mid-May 2023, WTO Members introduced more trade-facilitating (182) than trade-restrictive (110) measures on goods, unrelated to the pandemic. The number of new export restrictions has outpaced that of import restrictions for the third time since the beginning of the Trade Monitoring Exercise. In the area of services, 74 new measures were introduced by WTO Members, mostly facilitating trade. The review period saw new support measures by governments, including various environmental impact reduction programmes. The implementation of new COVID-19 trade-related measures on goods, services, intellectual property, and general economic support by WTO Members declined over the past seven months. 

Export restrictions, whether related to the COVID-19 pandemic or the war in Ukraine, including the food security crisis, continued to grab headlines, even as the pace of introduction of such measures slowed and several were rolled back. Globally, as of mid-May 2023, 63 export restrictions on food, feed and fertilizers were still in place, in addition to 21 COVID-19-related export restrictions. Many of these measures were introduced in the immediate aftermath of the outbreak of the pandemic and a similar pattern was observed following the start of the war in Ukraine. These developments were described in the November 2022 Trade Monitoring Report. For both crises, initial and often comprehensive export bans were subsequently replaced with other restrictions, such as quotas and licensing requirements, and many were later notified to the WTO. From a transparency point of view, this is important as it suggests that policy makers value the predictability of multilateral trade rules.