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Enforcement and protection | Brussels, 15 June 2020

Introductory remarks by Commissioner Phil Hogan at the Ottawa Group meeting

Introductory remarks by EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan on the European Commission’s ideas for an international initiative to facilitate trade in healthcare products, made at the Ottawa Group meeting of 13 like-minded WTO partners on 15 June.

Dear colleagues, the fight to defeat Covid-19 is still far from over. This is a truly global crisis, and I think we all agree that global challenges of this magnitude require a global response.

Since the beginning of the crisis, Ottawa Group Members have adopted this sensible approach, underlining the central role of the rules-based multilateral trading system, notably with respect to transparency.

It is therefore logical for the Ottawa Group to take the next steps, and explore how further action at WTO level can make a central contribution to the global response to the crisis.

Since Day One of the crisis, the European Union has been very supportive of strong and concrete action at the multilateral level, and in this regard we also offer our strong support for today's proposed Statement. We are confident that meaningful joint positions and joint proposals can emerge from the group.

I believe that the contours of a strong WTO response to the crisis are very well captured by the proposed Statement.

Transparency is essential to minimise the negative effects of the restrictive measures that have been taken in reaction to COVID-19. Proper transparency allows for proper scrutiny by Members and underpins coordination to keep supply chains open. Transparency will also help us in the future economic recovery phase which will follow the immediate crisis response.

It is therefore also important to ensure transparency in areas without clear WTO notification obligations. We need appropriate information on so-called economic support measures. It would be short-sighted to take the view that the vast economic support measures being mobilised around the world will not have a significant impact on trade flows and trade policy. We need to be vigilant, as WTO Members, to ensure that economic support justifiably provided to aid recovery does not distort the level-playing field and thus hamper global recovery efforts.

Boosting the WTO's trade monitoring capacity by demanding full transparency, and also by increasing the frequency of reports, would be a very valuable contribution of the Ottawa Group.
The COVID-19 crisis has further highlighted the importance of digital trade, but it has it has also exacerbated some of the existing challenges and vulnerabilities. Digital trade will play a key role in the economic recovery. Setting global rules could greatly enhance the benefits of digital trade for consumers and businesses and could also contribute to addressing some key policy challenges, such as digital protectionism.

Consequently, the WTO e-commerce negotiations are becoming even more important and the EU fully supports the co-conveners in driving this process forward.

However, as regards Trade and Health, I believe that we could go a step further and show more ambition than what we have outlined in the Statement.

We have a collective global responsibility to facilitate timely and sufficient access for patients and healthcare professionals to essential pharmaceutical and medical goods.

As we have seen, in difficult times this access may be hampered by various forms of barriers, restrictions, as well as tariffs. Therefore, it is imperative that we work together on establishing a framework for trade in healthcare goods which we could collectively propose to other WTO members. An exploratory discussion at a technical level in this regard has already started between our officials in Geneva. We on the EU side have put forward a paper with some ideas to contribute to the ongoing discussion, which could help us to prepare a collective initiative on trade in health goods in this group.