Coronavirus: European Commission backs international initiative to facilitate trade in healthcare products

The ongoing global coronavirus crisis has highlighted the need for a collective response from the international community to reinforce preparedness for this and future crises. Following a first discussion among EU ministers, Commissioner for Trade Phil Hogan today shared the European Commission’s ideas for an international initiative to facilitate trade in healthcare products with a group of World Trade Organization (WTO) partners.

These ideas address the ongoing international discussion on how to facilitate access to affordable pharmaceutical and medical goods and avoid trade disruptions in times of crisis, and could form part of an international agreement open to all WTO members.

Commissioner Phil Hogan said:The present healthcare crisis may be long-lasting, and others may follow. We need to act quickly to improve the resilience of our healthcare systems, including through improved trade policy initiatives. The ideas we are putting forward today aim to facilitate global access to affordable healthcare products, including for vulnerable countries without appropriate manufacturing capacities. The goal is to make supply chains more resilient and diversified and to support efforts to build strategic reserves of critical equipment. This is a global challenge requiring global solutions, so we are committed to working with like-minded partners to achieve these aims.”

A future agreement could facilitate trade in healthcare products and contribute to stronger global preparedness for future health shocks by:

  • abolishing tariffs on pharmaceutical and medical goods;
  • establishing a scheme of global cooperation in times of health crisis, covering issues such as import and export restrictions, customs and transit, public procurement and transparency;
  • improving the current WTO rules applicable to trade in essential goods.

The ideas presented today to the “Ottawa Group” (a group of 13 like-minded WTO partners) were presented for reflection to EU Member States in a meeting of the Trade Ministers on 9 June. This discussion as well as the initial feedback from international partners will assist in defining the next steps to advance this initiative.

Other issues discussed today among Trade Ministers of the Ottawa Group include transparency for trade-related measures taken in response to the coronavirus pandemic and progress on plurilateral negotiations on e-commerce.

For more information

Introductory remarks by European Commissioner for Trade Phil Hogan

European Commission concept paper

Ottawa Group Statement