Monitoring report shows increase of new trade restrictions from WTO members

WTO members introduced more trade-restrictive measures from mid-October 2017 to mid-May 2018 compared to the previous review period (mid-October 2016 to mid-October 2017), according to the Director-General’s mid-year report on trade-related developments presented to members on 25 July at a meeting of the Trade Policy Review Body. While WTO members continued to implement more trade-facilitating than trade-restrictive measures, the value of trade covered by the restrictive measures rose and the value covered by facilitating measures fell. The report draws attention to this shift, and to the fact that it is taking place at a time of heightened trade tensions and associated rhetoric, which should be of concern to the international community.

In presenting the report to members, Director-General Roberto Azevêdo said: “The message of the Report before us today is serious. We are heading in the wrong direction, and we seem to be speeding up. Growth, jobs and recovery are at stake. I call on members to recognize the gravity of this report and its findings. We need to see immediate steps which de-escalate the situation. I will continue working with all members to this end.”

The report shows that during the review period, WTO members applied 75 new trade-restrictive measures, including tariff increases, quantitative restrictions, imposition of import taxes and stricter customs regulations, amounting to a monthly average of almost 11 new measures per month. This is higher compared to the average of nine measures recorded in the previous report.

WTO members also implemented 89 measures aimed at facilitating trade during the review period, including eliminated or reduced tariffs, simplified customs procedures, reduction of import taxes and elimination of import bans. At almost 13 trade-facilitating measures per month, this is an increase compared to the average of 11 measures recorded for the previous review period.

In line with the findings of previous reports, the trade coverage of the import-facilitating measures (USD107.3 billion) is larger than that of the import-restrictive measures (USD84.5 billion). While this is encouraging, the ratio of the trade coverage of import-facilitating over import-restrictive measures, which was two-to-one in favour of the former in the November 2017 report, has fallen significantly for the current period review. This is a source of considerable concern and an area where continued monitoring is required.

On trade remedy measures, the review period recorded a stable pace in initiations of investigations by WTO members and an increase in trade remedy terminations. Initiations of trade remedy investigations represented 40% of all trade measures taken during the review period, with initiations of anti-dumping investigations accounting for almost 80%.

The Director-General’s full speech to launch the report is available here.

Key Findings

  • This Report covers new trade and trade-related measures implemented by WTO Members between October 16, 2017 and May 15, 2018. It reveals a number of important trends in global trade policy making. While WTO Members continue to implement trade-facilitating measures, the more worrying trend during this period is the increase in trade-restrictive measures, which has come at a time of increasing trade tensions and associated rhetoric. This should be of real concern to the international community.
  • WTO Members applied 75 new trade-restrictive measures during the review period, including tariff increases, quantitative restrictions, imposition of import taxes and stricter customs regulations. This equates to an average of almost 11 new measures per month, which is higher compared to the average of nine measures recorded in the previous Report.
  • During the review period, WTO Members also implemented 89 measures aimed at facilitating trade, including reduced or eliminated tariffs, simplified customs procedures, reduction of import taxes and elimination of import bans. At almost 13 trade-facilitating measures per month, this is an increase compared to the average of 11 measures recorded in the previous Report.
  • The trade coverage of the import-facilitating measures (USD 107.3 billion) is larger than that of the import-restrictive measures (USD 84.5 billion). Although this is an encouraging development for global trade at this juncture, it is of concern that the ratio of the trade coverage of import-facilitating over import-restrictive measures has fallen significantly for the current review period. This ratio was two-to-one in favour of trade-liberalizing measures, as recorded in the previous Report.
  • The review period recorded a stable pace in initiations of trade remedy investigations by WTO Members and an increase in terminations of trade remedy actions, compared to the previous period. Initiations of trade remedy investigations represent almost 40 % of all trade measures recorded during the review period. The trade coverage of trade remedy initiations recorded in this Report is estimated at USD 52.7 billion, almost double the trade coverage recorded for these measures during the same period in 2016-2017. The trade coverage of trade remedy terminations recorded in the review period is estimated at USD 6.8 billion.
  • At a point where the global economy is finally beginning to generate sustained economic momentum following the global financial crisis, the uncertainty created by a proliferation of trade-restrictive actions could place economic recovery in jeopardy. The multilateral trading system was built to resolve such problems and it has the tools to do so again. However, further escalation could carry potentially large risks for the system itself. Its resilience and functionality in the face of these challenges will depend on each and every one of its Members. WTO Members must use all means at their disposal to de-escalate the situation and promote further trade recovery.

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