Report on trade in medical goods in the context of COVID-19

12/04/2021    23

Date: December 2020 

By: World Trade Organization (WTO)

The WTO Secretariat has published an update of the information note on trade in medical goods in the context of tackling COVID-19 which was first issued on 3 April. The update looks at developments that took place in the first half of 2020.

The new paper presents preliminary trade statistics from 97 economies and compares data from January to June 2020 to the same period in 2019. The update includes a special case study on face masks, a heavily traded product which has become the most visible symbol of the fight against the pandemic.

While total world trade in goods declined by 14 per cent in the first half of 2020 compared to the same time period in 2019, imports and exports of medical goods increased by 16 per cent, reaching US$ 1.139 trillion in value.

Trade played a major role in meeting skyrocketing demand for products considered critical in the COVID-19 pandemic, such as disinfectants, face masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, pulse oximeters, syringes, thermometers and ventilators. Global trade in these products grew by 29 per cent year-on-year.

The note also looks at total imports of face protection products in the first half of 2020, which increased by 90 per cent compared to the same period last year. Trade in textile face masks grew about six-fold and were the most traded among the different types of faces masks, despite facing the highest tariffs.  

Key points:

While total world trade declined by 14 per cent in the first half of 2020 compared to the same time period in 2019, imports and exports of medical goods increased by 16 per cent, reaching US$ 1,139 billion in value

Trade played a critical role in meeting skyrocketing demand for products considered critical in the COVID-19 pandemic, with global trade in these products growing by 29 per cent.

Total imports of face protection products in the first half of 2020 increased by 90 per cent compared to the same period last year. Trade in textile face masks has grown about six-fold.

China was the top supplier of face masks, accounting for 56 per cent of world exports. To ramp up mask manufacturing, China leaned heavily on imports of intermediate input materials: its imports of non-woven fabric tripled in April 2020 compared with the same month of 2019, with Japan and the United States as the leading suppliers. China was also the sixth-largest importer of face masks in the first half of 2020.

Among the different types of face masks, textile masks are the most traded despite facing the highest tariffs.

Leading importers of COVID-19-critical products registered double-digit import growth compared to 2019, including 62 per cent in France and 52 per cent in Italy.

Chinese exports of COVID-19-critical medical products more than tripled based on year-on-year data for the first half of the year, from US$ 18 billion to US$ 55 billion.

The document is attached below: