G20 trade ministers meet by video to tackle coronavirus disruptions

This photo taken and handout by the press office of Palazzo Chigi on March 26, 2020 shows Italian Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte (L) taking part in a video conference as part of an extraordinary meeting of G20 leaders, from the Chigi Palace in Rome, during the country's lockdown following the COVID-19 new coronavirus pandemic. (AFP)
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Updated 30 March 2020

G20 trade ministers meet by video to tackle coronavirus disruptions

  • Follows last week’s call by leaders to maintain supply chains
  • Export bans and border closures have disrupted free trade

RIYADH/TOKYO/WASHINGTON: Trade ministers from the Group of 20 major economies agreed on Monday to keep their markets open and ensure the continued flow of vital medical supplies, equipment and other essential goods as the world battles the deadly coronavirus pandemic.
G20 leaders pledged last week to inject over $5 trillion into the global economy to limit job and income losses caused by border closures and sweeping shutdowns aimed at halting the spread of the disease.
In a joint statement issued after a videoconference, the ministers pledged to take “immediate necessary measures” to facilitate trade in essential goods and incentivize additional production of equipment and drugs.
They said they agreed that all emergency measures should be “targeted, proportionate, transparent, and temporary,” consistent with the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and not creating “unnecessary barriers” to trade.
They also vowed to work to prevent profiteering and unjustified price increases, and keep supplies flowing on an affordable and equitable basis.
“The pandemic is a global challenge and requires a coordinated global response,” the ministers said. “As we fight the pandemic both individually and collectively and seek to mitigate its impacts on international trade and investment, we will continue to work together to deliver a free, fair, non-discriminatory, transparent, predictable and stable trade and investment environment, and to keep our markets open.”
The ministers emphasized the importance of transparency, and agreed to notify the WTO about any trade-related measures taken to keep global supply chains running. They said they would convene again as necessary.
However, they stopped short of explicitly calling for an end to export bans that many countries, including G20 members France, Germany and India, have enacted on drugs and medical supplies. The statement included the phrase “consistent with national requirements” already used by G20 leaders, which experts say provides a loophole for protectionist barriers.

SHORTAGES AND BOTTLENECKS
Lack of protective medical 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 of tens of thousands of freight containers. Shippers struggle with crew shortages and quarantines at ports. Agriculture is also being disrupted.
The ministerial video conference was attended by representatives from the World Health Organization, World Trade Organization and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
G20 finance ministers and central bankers will also meet virtually, on Tuesday, for the second time in just over a week to continue coordinating their response, as worries grow about the debt crisis looming over 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 that 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 said.
The coronavirus has infected nearly 738,500 people worldwide and killed some 35,000, and has already plunged the world into a global recession, according to IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva.


Iran dismisses ‘desperate’ US move to end nuclear waivers

Updated 28 May 2020

Iran dismisses ‘desperate’ US move to end nuclear waivers

  • ‘Ending waivers for nuclear cooperation with Iran ... has effectively no impact on Iran’s continued work’

TEHRAN: Tehran on Thursday dismissed the impact of what it called Washington’s “desperate attempt” to end sanction waivers for nations that remain in the Iran nuclear accord.
The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran said the United States had made the move in a bid “to distract public opinion from its continued defeats at the hands of Iran.”
“Ending waivers for nuclear cooperation with Iran... has effectively no impact on Iran’s continued work” on what the Islamic republic insists is a purely civilian nuclear energy program, its spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi added in a statement published on the agency’s website.
The US decision, he said, was in response to Iranian fuel shipments to Venezuela — which is also under US sanctions — and the “significant advancements of Iran’s nuclear industry.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday that the United States was responding to Iran’s “brinksmanship” — its scrapping of certain nuclear commitments aimed at pressuring Washington to remove sanctions as called for by the 2015 accord.
“These escalatory actions are unacceptable and I cannot justify renewing the waiver,” Pompeo said in a statement.
President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the landmark agreement — also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA — and reimposed sanctions on Iran in 2018.
The remaining parties to the deal include Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia.
In May 2019, Iran announced it was suspending nuclear commitments to the deal, starting with removing limits on its heavy water and enriched uranium stockpiles.
It was in retaliation for US sanctions and what Iran deemed Europe’s inaction to provide it with the JCPOA’s economic benefits.
Washington had until now issued waivers to allow companies, primarily from Russia, to keep carrying out the nuclear work of the agreement without risking legal ramifications in the US economy.
It will end waivers that allowed the modification of the heavy water reactor in Arak, which prevented it from using plutonium for military use, as well as the export of spent and scrap research reactor fuel.
Kamalvandi said ending the waivers would not impact Iran’s continued work on the Arak reactor and “other equipment” by Iranian experts.