12 May 2020
Virtual G20 Ministerial Events Spotlight COVID-19, Trade Impacts
Image by Csaba Nagy from Pixabay
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While all statements from the April G20 ministerial meetings describe COVID-19’s impacts and actions taken to address them, several focus on international trade effects and measures that will help ensure stability.

A Communiqué from the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors meeting summarizes the Group’s “urgent collective priority” as overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic and “its intertwined health, social and economic impacts”.

Saudi Arabia, as holder of the Group of 20 (G20) Presidency, hosted a series of virtual G20 ministerial events in April 2020. While the meetings spanned energy, agriculture, digital economy, labor and employment, tourism, and trade and investment, the standout theme across all tracks was COVID-19, the impacts of the pandemic, and the G20’s response.

Meetings convened in the latter half of the month produced statements that focus exclusively on the issue, acknowledging COVID in the title. Several note that the respective groups of ministers stand ready to “convene again as necessary,” indicating that the pandemic and shift to a virtual meeting format may lead to more frequent discussions.

A Statement issued by the Trade and Investment Ministers of the G20 following their virtual meeting on 30 March describes COVID-19 as requiring “a coordinated global response.” It notes that the G20 Leaders, following their Extraordinary Meeting held on 26 March, committed “to presenting a united front against this common threat.” The Statement highlights the Ministers’ work to ensure the flow of vital medical supplies, agricultural products, and other essential goods and services across borders. It underscores concern for developing countries, emphasizing least developed countries (LDCs) and small island developing States (SIDS) and the impact of COVID-19 on vulnerable workers and businesses. The Statement commits Trade and Investment Ministers “to work together to deliver a free, fair, nondiscriminatory, transparent, predictable and stable trade and investment environment” and keep global supply chains functioning.

Trade impacts are also recognized in the Statement issued following the Extraordinary Agriculture Ministers Meeting held virtually on 21 April. The Ministers “acknowledge the challenges of minimizing the risk of COVID-19 while keeping food supply chains functioning.” They reaffirm the importance of “the continued flow of food, products, and inputs essential for agricultural and food production across borders.” They further agree – like the Trade and Investment Ministers – that emergency measures taken in response to COVID-19 must not create unnecessary barriers and must remain consistent with World Trade Organization (WTO) rules. The Statement commits to reinforcing international cooperation and to guarding against unjustified restrictive measures that could lead to excessive food price volatility in international markets or threaten food security.

Emergency measures taken in response to COVID-19 must not create unnecessary barriers and must remain consistent with WTO rules.

A press release on the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors meeting notes that while normally held in the margins of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank Group (WBG) Spring Meetings – on which SDG Knowledge Hub coverage is here – participants instead convened virtually on 15 April.

A Communiqué from the meeting summarizes the Group’s “urgent collective priority” as overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic and “its intertwined health, social and economic impacts.” Measures taken by finance ministers and central bank governors include actions on fiscal and monetary stability, as well as ensuring that International Financial Institutions (IFIs) can provide support to developing and low-income countries. The Comminqué endorses the G20 Action Plan in response to COVID-19, including a financial response that, inter alia: delivers a comprehensive IMF support package; implements the support proposed by the WBG and multilateral development banks (MDBs) amounting to more than USD 200 billion; addresses debt vulnerabilities in low-income countries due to the pandemic; and enhances coordination among international organizations to maximize impact and optimize the use of resources.

Other meetings’ statements also link back to trade and the international disruption wrought by COVID-19:

  • The Extraordinary G20 Digital Economy Ministerial Meeting, held virtually on 30 April, released a COVID-19 Response Statement that emphasizes the role of digital technologies in response to the pandemic. The Statement highlights, inter alia, the importance of: communication infrastructure and network connectivity; secure data exchange; research and development of new health technologies; and the leveraging of digital technologies to promote international trade cooperation and maintain the stability of global supply chains, including through e-commerce and the digital supply of services.
  • The G20 Labor and Employment Ministers’ Statement on COVID-19 from the virtual meeting, held on 23 April, notes that workers are facing “elevated risks of job losses, reduced working hours, suspended employment relations and income loss” as a result of the pandemic. The Statement commits to a human-centered approach to promote employment, bolster social protection, stabilize labor relations, and ultimately minimize the impacts of COVID-19 on operations, resources, supply chains, and workforces.
  • The G20 Tourism Ministers’ Statement on COVID-19 from the virtual meeting, held on 24 April, estimates that a 45-70% decline in international tourism is expected for 2020, putting up to 75 million jobs at risk. The Ministers commit to working with relevant authorities “to ensure that the introduction and removal of travel restrictions are coordinated … and ensure the safety of travelers.” The Statement welcomes efforts by other working groups and further commits to “fostering innovation and digital technologies that enable sustainable practices and seamless travel.”
  • The G20 Extraordinary Energy Ministers Meeting Statement from the virtual meeting, held on 24 April, laments that COVID-19 has “contributed to the destabilization of global oil and gas markets and compromises energy security for many nations.” The Ministers “recognize the vital role that well-functioning, stable, open, transparent and competitive energy markets play” in economic activity, and commit to ensuring “the uninterrupted flow of energy.”

In addition to the above statements’ calls for action on COVID-19, the Saudi G20 Presidency called for USD 8 billion, and pledged USD 500 million, to fight the pandemic. [G20 Trade and Investment Ministerial Statement] [G20 Extraordinary Agriculture Ministers Meeting Ministerial Statement on COVID-19] [G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors Press Release] [G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors Meeting Communiqué] [Extraordinary G20 Digital Economy Ministerial Meeting COVID-19 Response Statement] [G20 Labor and Employment Ministers’ Statement on COVID-19] [G20 Tourism Ministers’ Statement on COVID-19] [G20 Extraordinary Energy Ministers Meeting Statement]

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