In July 2020, the World Trade Organization (WTO) issued their annual report to the United Nations High-level Political Forum (HLPF) on their efforts to achieve trade-specific targets to the UNs Sustainable Development Goals.  Like the rest of the world, the COVID-19 crisis has had “a major impact on the global supply and demand, leading to disruptions in global supply chains for both goods and services.” The WTO expects world trade to “fall by between 13% and 32% in 2020…exceed[ing] the trade slump brought on by the global financial crisis of 2008-09.” Due to these high numbers, nearly all regions will see impact from the decline, but it is projected North America and Asia will see the greatest effects and “complex value chains, particularly electronics and automotive products” will receive the hits on the industry side.

While the world’s recovery from the pandemic will hopefully begin as early as 2021, the true terms and conditions of this are unknown. The WTO outlined six priorities in the annual report to aide international trade through the pandemic:

  • Keep members, staff and the public, safe and to assure continuity of service.
  • Provide an international cooperative framework in which Members can consider their individual responses to the crisis.
  • Be able to inform Members of the effects on world trade of the spread of the virus, including disseminating information on measures that facilitate and restrict trade.
  • Make it clearly understood that there is wide freedom to take necessary positive actions to meet the crisis (i.e. lower tariff rates or have no tariffs on any products that aide in dealing with the emergency).
  • Facilitate the crafting of a coordinated response – with respect to members pledging to keep trade flows open, both with respect to imports and exports.
  • Assure the continuation of ongoing negotiations and work at the WTO.

On the vein of change, the WTO will have a new Director-General to lead the charge through the remainder of the pandemic and into the recovery period. On 31 August 2020, Director General Azevedo will be stepping down and the selection process is already underway. The eight nominated candidates for WTO Director-General met with members on 15-17 July at a meeting of the General Council and will be undergoing the selection process over the next few months.  With the changing of the guard in such a tumultuous time, the WTO has much more than just the challenges of the pandemic to juggle.  Hopefully, new leadership will ensure prosperous recovery for international trade out of the pandemic – but only time will tell.