Governments have taken decisive measures to combat the spread of COVID-19 and to protect livelihoods and national economy. These measures range from self-isolation and border closure, export restrictions and import barriers, to a wide array of monetary and fiscal measures to ameliorate the effects on national economy. While these measures are arguably needed in this unprecedented period of time, they would have far-reaching implications for trade policy making in the aftermath of COVID-19.
Before the outbreak of the crisis, global trade and cooperative trade policy making had already been disrupted by the dramatic change of the US trade policy to unilateralism and protectionism and the resultant retaliatory actions by its major trading partners. While COVID-19 has caused further reduction in international trade and growing deterioration of international relations, it may also provide an opportunity for governments to reflect on their decisions and strategies in the past three years and take steps to reinvigorate the WTO as a major forum for trade negotiation and dispute resolution.
This is not the first time we are in a crisis. The 1930 Smoot-Hawley Tariff and the 2008 Great Depression, for example, also had a destructive impact on trade and international relations. Through collective efforts, governments succeeded in bringing the world economy back to (a new) normal. Despite the arguably larger impact of COVID-19, collective efforts are what is needed to, and what can, rebuild the world trading system. One should never let a serious crisis go to waste.