Trade ministers from the Group of 20 major economies convened an extraordinary video conference on Monday to come to grips with the blow to global trade from the coronavirus pandemic and weigh how to overcome supply chain disruptions.
G20 leaders pledged last week to inject over $5 trillion into the global economy to limit job and income losses.
They said they would ensure the flow of goods including vital medical supplies and resolve disruptions caused by border closures by national governments anxious to limit transmissions of the virus.
But they stopped short of calling for an end to export bans that many countries, including G20 members France, Germany and India, have enacted on drugs and medical supplies. Lack of protective gear is putting doctors and nurses at risk.
Many countries rely on China, the source of the outbreak, for drug ingredients, and are now struggling to avoid shortages after lockdown measures prompted by the epidemic held up supplies and delayed shipments.
Supply chains are backing up as air freight capacity plunges and companies struggle to find truck drivers and shipping crews. Europe and the United States are short tens of thousands of freight containers. Shippers struggle with crew shortages and quarantines at ports. Agriculture also faces disruption.
A statement was expected after the ministerial gathering, which representatives from the World Health Organization, World Trade Organization and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development were invited to attend.
For their part, G20 finance ministers and central bankers will meet virtually on Tuesday for the second time in just over a week to continue coordinating their response, including debt relief to poorer countries, three sources told Reuters.
Japan’s trade minister told counterparts at Monday’s meeting that the public and private sectors should try to avoid shutting supply networks to enable an early resumption of economic activities.
“It is extremely important to keep supplying medical and daily necessities internationally to overcome the crisis as well as to restore economic activities when the coronavirus outbreak comes to an end,” Hiroshi Kajiyama said in a statement.
Yousef Al-Benyan, chair of the Saudi Business 20 which engages the global business community, told Reuters cross-border trade would be vital to economic recovery.
Each G20 state must “address their local requirements, but that should not compromise the good state of free trade globally which will benefit everybody”, he added.
The coronavirus has infected nearly 738,500 people worldwide and killed some 35,000, and is expected to inflict a global recession.