Opinion Piece: Services are essential too! Identifying the missing link in trade policy proposals during the pandemic

Dr Sherry Stephenson, Convenor, Pacific Economic Cooperation Council (PECC) Services Network.
Considerable discussion has been carried out over the past 18 months on how to most effectively address the COVID-19 health pandemic in an international context, particularly the critical role of trade in providing the necessary channels for moving essential medical equipment, vaccines and therapeutics, across borders. Several proposals have been submitted to the WTO on how trade policy can best respond to the COVID-19 crisis.

However, almost none of these numerous proposals have mentioned the critical role that services play in moving essential goods across borders. There is a striking difference between the focus on trade in goods and the absence of attention on the necessary role of services in allowing these goods to reach their destination.

Most of the discussion that has taken place at the WTO over the past 18 months has focused on proposals to adopt a temporary waiver from the TRIPS Agreement that would allow for the production of generic COVID-19 health products outside of normal patent obligations. More recent proposals have called for a WTO Trade and Health Initiative and for the creation of a WTO Committee on Trade and Health. The recent proposals by several WTO members to the WTO General Council have been submitted with the purpose of crafting a Declaration as well as a Work Program or Action Plan for the WTO to pursue in addressing the pandemic. These proposals will be negotiated for finalization at the coming Ministerial Council meeting (MC12).  However, only a few of these recent submissions mentions or highlights the vital role of services in facilitating the movement of trade in essential goods.