Trade restrictions on products such as medical goods – have proliferated during the pandemic as countries become more protectionist, experts have warned.
Analysis by the Global Trade Alert of more than 2,000 policy interventions such as tariffs or subsidies taken during the first 10 months of 2020 showed only about a quarter of those measures benefited countries’ trading partners.
That total was up 74pc from the same period last year, and 147pc higher than the average for 2015-2017 – before the US-China trade war.
“Keeping goods – including medical kit, medicines, and hopefully soon vaccines – flowing across borders is essential during a pandemic,” the report said.
“Governments may see themselves as responsible solely for the wellbeing of their own citizens but that doesn’t negate the fact that their actions can harm the health as well as the livelihoods of citizens of trading partners. This year has witnessed policy interventions that both sicken-thy-neighbour and beggar-thy-neighbour.”
The research found that this year, 43 countries experienced worse market access conditions for at least a tenth of their goods exports, compared to only seven countries for whom conditions improved for more than a tenth of goods exports.
Overall, 110 export curbs on medical goods and medicines remain in force, of which 68 have no end-date. This could lead to “long-term scarring”, the report cautioned.
Some countries that have brought in policies harmful to their trading partners could face retaliation in the future. In particular, the 111 countries that rely on imports of vaccines and did not export them from 2015 to 2018, according to UN Comtrade data, may be vulnerable, the authors cautioned.