PHL, 30 others push junking of tariffs on medical products


THE Philippines, along with over 30 states, proposed that World Trade Organization (WTO) member-countries eliminate tariffs and unnecessary non-tariff measures, such as export restrictions, to ensure the smooth flow of medical products like syringe and vaccines amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a communication submitted to the World Trade Organization (WTO) General Council, the 32 state-sponsors of the document proposed measures meant to ensure the “equitable” distribution of “essential medical goods” during the pandemic and beyond.

The document noted that WTO member-states are “free to decide” what constitutes essential medical goods, but added that such goods include pharmaceutical products, medical devices and other medical-related products needed to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Philippines became a co-sponsor of the document last November 17.

“The trade policy-related actions set out in this declaration are designed to contribute to the WTO response to the current Covid-19 pandemic and to enhance resilience against future pandemics,” the declaration read.

“These actions may be complemented by additional aspects of trade policy, including those related to intellectual property. This Declaration is a contribution to the multilateral process on the WTO response to the pandemic,” it added.

The draft declaration recognized an “equitable distribution” of medical goods across countries requires “concerted efforts to increase manufacturing capacity and investment,” especially in countries which have “limited resources” and are import dependent.

“The challenges posed by the current pandemic offer an opportunity for Members to take stock of the lessons learnt and review the existing tools of the trade policy in an effort to enhance Members’ resilience against any future health crisis of local, regional or global nature,” it read.

Once the WTO General Council—the highest policy-making body of the multilateral organization—approves the declaration, member-countries will take actions “intended to facilitate trade in essential medical goods in these critical times and enhance the capacity of the trading system to deal with a public health emergency.” Such proposed actions, read the declaration, “are not intended to be prescriptive and do not cover the whole universe of possible measures that could support trade in essential medical goods.”

“Rather, they reflect emerging best practices and should provide sufficient flexibility to be adapted to each Member’s differing circumstances. They could pave the way for new WTO commitments in the future,” it added.

Some measures identified by the document are the regular review and prompt elimination of “unnecessary existing restrictions” on exports of essential medical goods, as well as the exercise of “utmost” restraint in the imposition of “any new export restrictions” on such goods.

By so doing, members ensure that any export restrictions applied to fight the pandemic “are implemented only when necessary to prevent or relieve critical shortages and as a last resort after consideration of other less-trade restrictive options,” it read.

The bottomline is to “implement any such measures in a manner that limits market disruptions to the greatest extent possible, is targeted, transparent, proportionate and temporary, and consistent with WTO obligations,” it added.

The draft declaration also noted that shipments of essential medical goods will be exempted from export restrictions while least developed and developing countries are excluded from undertaking measures in the document.

The draft declaration also stipulated that member-countries must do their best to “temporarily remove or reduce tariffs” on goods deemed essential medical goods to fight Covid-19.

“We may choose the method of implementation of such a temporary tariff removal or reduction, which could take the form of emergency duty relief programs. The indicative list of Covid-19 related goods, established by the World Customs Organization and World Health Organization, could be helpful in the determination of the product scope,” it read.

Member-countries will be required to share experiences in trade-facilitating measures and intensify efforts to speed up implementation of the Trade Facilitation Agreement.

The document also noted that member-countries will consider, in crafting a decision, to establish a work program on pandemic preparedness at the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC), which has been postponed indefinitely on travel restrictions imposed by countries including host Switzerland, following the discovery of a new Covid-19 variant.

“Without prejudice to the decision of Ministers, the work programme could include, for instance, a review of lessons learnt during the Covid-19 crisis, the preparation of guidelines or codes of best practices, or potentially lead to additional commitments that could help Members to enhance their preparedness and crisis resilience,” it read.

“No later than six months after the adoption of this Declaration, the WTO General Council will take stock of the effectiveness of the above actions and consider options for moving forward,” it added.

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